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Trump can’t dodge claim in civil rape case nearing trial

Defamation claims over a Truth Social post can proceed, a federal judge ruled.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump must face one of the civil charges against him, a judge ruled Tuesday, as the former president gears up to defend himself in federal court next month against sexual assault allegations. 

Trump faces a lawsuit accusing him of raping writer E. Jean Carroll in the mid-1990s in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room. Carroll, who for decades penned an advice column for Elle magazine, filed the suit in November under a newly enacted New York law allowing survivors to file ordinarily time-barred claims during a one-year look-back window. In addition to a battery count the complaint alleges a defamation count based on an Oct. 12, 2022, post on his platform Truth Social — a categorical denial peppered with insults. 

“This ‘Ms. Bergdorf Goodman case’ is a complete con job,” Trump wrote. “She has no idea what day, what week, what month, what year, or what decade this so-called ‘event’ supposedly took place. The reason she doesn’t know is because it never happened, and she doesn’t want to get caught up with details or facts that can be proven wrong.”

Trump accused Carroll of changing her story and angling to promote “a really crummy book,” referring to the 2019 memoir “What Do We Need Men For?” in which Carroll detailed the alleged assault.

“E. Jean Carroll is not telling the truth, is a woman who I had nothing to do with, didn’t know, and would have no interest in knowing her if I ever had the chance,” Trump wrote. “Now all I have to do is go through years more of legal nonsense in order to clear my name of her and her lawyer’s phony attacks on me. This can only happen to ‘Trump’!”

Importantly, the lawsuit followed another pending suit by Carroll, accusing Trump of defamation when he first denied her account. 

Trump’s attorneys argued he was “merely writing about” that lawsuit in the Truth Social post, which indeed doubles down on his initial remarks that Carroll was lying and his “she’s not my type” assertion, apparently against advice he’d been given.  

“I don’t know this woman, have no idea who she is, other than it seems she got a picture of me many years ago, with her husband, shaking my hand on a reception line at a celebrity charity event,” he wrote. “And, while I am not supposed to say it, I will. This woman is not my type!”

However, the statement was not a “report of any judicial proceeding,” U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled, and even if it were, Trump failed to demonstrate that it was a “fair and true report of any judicial proceeding.” 

The statement referenced the previous lawsuit twice, Kaplan found, in referring to Carroll as “Ms. Bergdorf Goodman” and a mention of the judge.

Beyond that, the statement focuses on Trump’s views of the legal system, the substance of Carroll’s rape allegation, and making accusations against Carroll’s counsel. 

“The passing references in Mr. Trump’s statement to Carroll I and an unidentified decision of this Court would not give an ordinary reader the impression that the statement is a report of a judicial proceeding,” Kaplan wrote in the 22-page order.

Kaplan recently decided to keep the two lawsuits separate, although they each ultimately turn on whether or not a jury believes the attack took place. He said combining the matters wouldn’t meaningfully streamline the process, and could run counter to decisions in Washington or at the Second Circuit. 

The loss for Trump comes as Manhattan remains on watch for a potential grand jury indictment for paying hush money to an adult film actress during his first run for president. 

Both Carroll’s and Trump’s attorneys declined to comment on the ruling.

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