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E. Jean Carroll tells DC appeals court Trump had private motives when denying sexual assault

By Kara Scannell

Lawyers for E. Jean Carroll argued that former President Donald Trump acted with private motives when he denied raping the ex-magazine columnist and they urged the DC Court of Appeals to reject his claim that his allegedly defamatory statements were made as part of his job as president.

“Trump did not attack Carroll intending to advance any federal interest. Instead, he lied to protect himself from the truth and to destroy Carroll for daring to speak up,” Carroll’s attorneys wrote Thursday in a filing with the DC Court of Appeals. “Presidents are free to deny allegations of misconduct. But a White House job is not a promise of unlimited authority to brutalize victims of prior wrongdoing through vicious, personal, defamatory attacks. That is not the law—and this Court should not make it so.”

The question of whether Trump acted within the scope of his duties as president when he denied Carroll’s allegation that he raped her in the mid-1990s will likely decide whether her defamation lawsuit — one of several legal clouds hanging over the 2024 White House candidate — moves forward.

Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019 for denying the rape, saying she was not his type and saying she fabricated the allegations to boost sales of her book. Trump and the Justice Department argued that he was acting within the scope of his duties as president when he answered reporters’ questions about the allegations. A federal judge sided with Carroll. The Justice Department and Trump appealed.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that Trump was an employee of the federal government but asked the DC Court of Appeals to weigh in on whether his statements were in the scope of his employment. If the court deems that they were, the case will likely be dismissed.

In urging the DC Court of Appeals to find in their favor, Carroll’s attorneys argued, “The Court should reaffirm its century-old adherence to the rule that an employee acts outside the scope of his employment if (at the moment he engaged in his tortious conduct) he was too little actuated by a purpose to serve his employer.”

“[T]he Presidency is not boundless—and not every public statement by the President is an official act,” her attorneys argued.

A federal judge recently postponed the trial of the defamation lawsuit until April to give the DC court time to rule.

Last week Carroll sued Trump for battery and defamation under New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which allows any adult to bring a claim against an alleged attacker even if the alleged assault occurred outside the statute of limitations. The new law provides a one-year window for individuals to file the claim.

Trump, through his attorneys, has denied any wrongdoing.

Alina Habba, an attorney for Trump, responded to the new suit last week, saying, “While I respect and admire individuals that come forward, this case is unfortunately an abuse of the purpose of this Act which creates a terrible precedent and runs the risk of delegitimizing the credibility of actual victims.”

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