Former President Donald Trump’s reputation was put on the line again as a new Department of Justice filing changed course on immunity claims regarding writer E. Jean Carroll.
With the 2024 presidential campaign cycle well underway, it appeared that the oft-polling GOP frontrunner’s schedule was continuing to get cluttered with legal disputes. Despite the Justice Department under both his and President Joe Biden’s administrations having previously viewed 2019 remarks by Trump as within the scope of his duties, a letter sent to attorneys for Trump and Carroll Tuesday indicated that was no longer the position, opening the door for a $10 million defamation suit to proceed.
As stated by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, “in light of the D.C. Court of Appeals’ clarification of the standard for respondeat superior liability under D.C. law…as wells as new factual developments, the Department of Justice is declining to certify under the Westfall Act…that defendant Donald J. Trump was acting within the scope of his office and employment as President of the United States when he made the statements that form the basis of the defamation claims in plaintiff’s Amended Complaint in this action.”
The Westfall Act entitles federal employees to “absolute immunity from personal tort liability for conduct occurring within the scope of their employment.”
“The evidence of Mr. Trump’s state of mind,” the letter contended, “some of which has come to light only after the Department last made a certification decision, does not establish that he made the statements at issue with a ‘more than insignificant’ purpose to serve the United States Government.”
Previously, it had been reported that Trump was countersuing Carroll for defamation over allegations that she had falsely accused him of rape. That claim was brought about by remarks from the writer upon the president being found civilly liable for sexual abuse and defamation, a determination that required he pay her $5 million in damages.
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“Here,” Boynton’s letter continued of the then-president’s 2019 exchange with the media, “although the statements themselves were made in a work context, the allegations that prompted the statements related to a purely personal incident: an alleged sexual assault that occurred decades prior to Mr. Trump’s Presidency. That sexual assault was obviously not job-related.”
A key result of the Justice Department’s reversal is the fact that they will no longer serve as a substitute defendant in Carroll’s suit, a possibility that many suggested would have led to the case being dismissed. Because of the decision, the path appeared cleared for the trial to begin as scheduled in Jan. 2024, the same month that the Iowa caucus is slated for.
Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan responded to the decision with a “grateful” statement that said in part, “We have always believed that Donald Trump made his defamatory statements about our client in June 2019 out of personal animus, ill will and spite, and not as president.”
While Trump had yet to publicly comment at the time of this post, Reuters reported that Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung slammed the decision as further proof of “politically weaponizing the justice system” and called it “a partisan sham.”
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