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DOJ Reverses Position on Trump’s Immunity, Allowing E. Jean Carroll’s Defamation Lawsuit to Proceed

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has reversed its previous position and no longer believes that former President Donald Trump should have immunity from E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit.[0] This development has been welcomed by Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, who has always maintained that Trump's defamatory statements about her client were made out of personal animus and not as President of the United States. With this obstacle removed, Kaplan looks forward to the trial in Carroll's original case, scheduled for January 2024.[1]

The DOJ's previous support for Trump's immunity was based on the idea that he was acting within the scope of his duties when he denied Carroll's allegations.[2] However, after reconsideration, the DOJ has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support this claim. In a letter to lawyers representing both Trump and Carroll, DOJ lawyers stated that they lack adequate evidence to conclude that Trump was acting within his employment or serving the US government when he made the disputed statements.[1]

Carroll initially filed her lawsuit in 2019, accusing Trump of sexually assaulting her in a high-end New York City department store in the 1990s.[3] Trump denied the allegations, calling Carroll a liar.[4] In October 2021, a federal judge ruled that Trump was not shielded from Carroll's suit, but this decision was later reversed by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2022, suggesting that the Westfall Act could protect Trump from liability.[5]

The DOJ's recent reversal means that Carroll's defamation lawsuit can now move forward to trial. In a separate lawsuit filed last year, a federal jury found Trump liable for defamation and battery, awarding Carroll $5 million in damages.[6] Trump is currently appealing this decision.[2] Carroll is seeking additional damages and has filed a separate defamation case seeking at least $10 million.[7]

The trial for Carroll's original case is scheduled for January, and both parties are preparing for the legal proceedings.[7] Trump's attorneys have yet to provide a comment on the recent developments.[8]

The lawsuit over Trump's 2019 comments raised special legal issues because federal employees are typically immune from personal liability if their conduct is connected to their official duties.[9] The Westfall Act grants federal employees “absolute immunity” from lawsuits based on conduct within the scope of their office. The DOJ's previous position was that Trump was acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States when he made the statements in question.[10] However, the recent shift in the DOJ's stance indicates that they no longer believe Trump should be granted immunity under the Westfall Act.

Overall, the DOJ's reversal is a significant development in Carroll's case against Trump. It allows her defamation lawsuit to proceed to trial and potentially holds Trump accountable for his statements. The outcome of the trial will determine whether Carroll will receive further damages and potentially set a precedent for future cases involving high-profile individuals accused of defamation.

0. “DOJ: Presidency Doesn't Shield Trump from Defamation Suit” National Review, 12 Jul. 2023, https://www.nationalreview.com/news/in-reversal-doj-says-presidency-doesnt-shield-trump-from-defamation-suit

1. “DOJ won't shield Trump from claims he defamed writer E. Jean Carroll” NPR, 11 Jul. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/07/11/1187100364/trump-carroll-lawsuit

2. “Trump no longer immune from E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit, DOJ says” Geo News, 11 Jul. 2023, https://www.geo.tv/latest/498705-trump-no-longer-immune-from-e-jean-carroll-defamation-lawsuit-doj-says

3. “DOJ won't support shielding Trump in original E. Jean Carroll lawsuit” Yahoo Life, 11 Jul. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/doj-wont-support-shielding-trump-222744533.html

4. “E. Jean Carroll's Lawyers Dragged Trump's Flimsy Countersuit” UPROXX, 11 Jul. 2023, https://uproxx.com/viral/e-jean-carroll-lawyers-trump-countersuit-like-the-onion/

5. “Justice Department reverses course on defending Trump in E. Jean Carroll case” Yahoo! Voices, 12 Jul. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/news/justice-department-reverses-course-defending-021043037.html

6. “Trump shouldn't have immunity in E. Jean Carroll defamation suit, DOJ says” Axios, 11 Jul. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/07/11/donald-trump-e-jean-carroll-defamation-immunity

7. “Justice Department Says Trump Not Immune In E. Jean Carroll Defamation Suit” HuffPost, 12 Jul. 2023, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-e-jean-carroll-doj-immune_n_64adf07de4b0e87d65579721

8. “DOJ no longer believes Trump should have immunity from E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit” KTVZ, 11 Jul. 2023, https://ktvz.com/news/2023/07/11/doj-no-longer-believes-trump-should-have-immunity-from-e-jean-carroll-defamation-lawsuit/

9. “DOJ: Trump's comments about E. Jean Carroll while president weren't ‘job-related'” POLITICO, 12 Jul. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/07/11/trump-carroll-defamation-lawsuit-doj-00105782

10. “DOJ Reverses Course in Trump Defamation Case” Newsweek, 11 Jul. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/doj-reverses-course-trump-defamation-case-1812342