MANHATTAN (CN) — Donald Trump cannot deploy the Department of Justice to shield him from a defamation suit brought by rape accuser E. Jean Carroll, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
"The president of the United States is not an 'employee of the government' within the meaning of the relevant statutes,” U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote this morning, rejecting Trump’s motion to substitute the United States as the defendant in a defamation suit he faces.
Carroll says Trump assaulted her in a department store in the 1990s before he was president, then defamed her in denying that he had never met her, and sneering that she wasn’t his “type” if he did.
“Even if he were such an ‘employee,’ President Trump's allegedly defamatory statements concerning Ms. Carroll would not have been within the scope of his employment,” Kaplan wrote.
Referring to the Federal Tort Claims Act by its shorthand, the Clinton-appointed judge found that the statute does not include presidents in its definition of employees.
“While the president possesses all of the executive power of the United States, he is not an 'employee' within the meaning of the FTCA,” he wrote.
“And even if the president were an employee under that statute,” the 61-page opinion continues, “his statements concerning Ms. Carroll were not within the scope of his employment under the law of the relevant jurisdiction, which for reasons explained below is Washington, D.C.”
Trump denies having ever met Carroll, despite there being photographs showing otherwise, and depicts her accusations as part of a political conspiracy and a scheme to sell books.
“I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type,” Trump said on June 24, 2019. “Number two, it never happened. It never happened.”
Carroll initially sued Trump in Manhattan Supreme Court. Trump brought the case to U.S. District Court, where he has been pushing for its postponement ever since in a combustible election season.
The motion had been set for in-person oral arguments last week, but the hearing was spiked that morning after the Justice Department’s lawyer breached coronavirus protocols.
After traveling into New York from Virginia, where Covid-19 infection rates have been surging this month, Justice Department attorney William Kerwin Lane III attempted to enter the federal courthouse rather than quarantine for the mandated two weeks.
Lane sought a continuance of the hearing, falsely claiming that Virginia had only just been added to New York’s list of restricted states when it had actually been on the list since Oct. 13.
Judge Kaplan said Lane could have participated in the hearing remotely or sent an unrestricted lawyer in his stead, denying a continuance.
In support of Trump’s bid to have the Department of Justice intervene, the government argued that allowing defamation lawsuits like Carroll’s to proceed will discourage presidents from responding to press inquiries about such allegations, racking up costs and time.
Meanwhile the opposition brief from Carroll’s attorney rebuked the Justice Department’s argument that Trump made his comments about Carroll in the scope of his duty as president.
“There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in the opening volley of a 45-page legal brief.
“That should not be a controversial proposition. Remarkably, however, the Justice Department seeks to prove it wrong,” continued the lawyer, who co-founded the Time's Up Legal Defense Fund in 2017 with Tina Tchen, Fatima Goss Graves and Hilary Rosen.
Representatives for Kaplan’s firm, Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Judge Kaplan’s ruling.
A Department of Justice spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday.
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