Court mulls: Was Trump’s reply to rape claim part of job?

Federal appeals judges are considering whether former President Donald Trump can be held liable in a libel case related to his response to rape allegations

Trump and the Department of Justice say he was acting in an official capacity when he spoke to the media about author E Jane Carroll’s accusation, so they want to trade the US government for Trump himself as a defendant in her defamation lawsuit.

The change may seem technical, but it can make a big difference. Federal law makes it difficult to sue U.S. government employees for job-related actions, and law that sometimes allows such lawsuits specifically excludes lawsuits for defamation and libel. That could prevent Carroll’s case from moving forward if the courts determine that Trump was a government employee.

A federal judge rejected that request in October. The panel of judges of the Second US Court of Appeals, which convened Friday, did not provide a clear indication of how or when they would issue their ruling.

But the justices asked multiple questions about the commander-in-chief’s private and public conduct: Does everything the president say have to do with business? Would it be the case if the reporters were there?

Is it possible to say that a woman is “not my type” as Trump did, to be part of public service? Should superiors constantly care about their language in fear that losing their composure could cross the line of legal liability?

Trump’s attorney, Alina Hobba, called the letter an “unprovoked attack on a citizen” and said that was not what he had done.

“He was on the defensive here,” Heba said after Carroll went public in 2019 claiming that Trump raped her in the 1990s. She said the prosecution fundamentally questioned his suitability for the position.

“When someone says they committed a heinous crime 20 years ago, they have to stand up to it,” she said.

But Carroll’s lawyers say Trump’s response has gone beyond any job obligation.

“The job of the White House is not a promise of unlimited privilege to treat a person who was the victim of a previous attack,” attorney Joshua Matz told the court.

Carroll, a former advice columnist for Elle magazine, sued Trump in 2019, saying he defamed her by denying her allegations that he raped her in the locker room of a New York City department store in the 1990s.

Trump said she was a “totally false” and “not my type,” among other remarks. He said they never met, dismissing a 1987 photo of the two and their then-wives as a makeshift meeting at a social event.

In the final months of the Republican presidency, the Justice Department sought to replace him as defendant in the Carroll case. The department maintained its position during the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.

Justice Department attorney Mark Freeman told the Court of Appeals Friday that he did not come out to defend or justify Trump’s comments, calling them “crude and insulting.”

“I’m here because any president facing a public indictment of this kind, with the media so interested in him, would feel obligated to answer the audience’s questions, answer the media’s questions,” Freeman said.

After the hearing, Carroll called on the appeals court to dismiss what she called a “dangerous strategy” from the government and Trump.

“Donald Trump was in no way a supporter of the presidency when he claimed I wasn’t his type and called me a liar. His comments were personal attacks designed to punish me for daring to speak,” she said in a statement. Truth.”

Her lawsuit seeks a retraction of the lawsuit and unspecified damages.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they choose to tell their stories publicly, as Carol did.


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