The Justice Department says Donald Trump can be held personally liable for comments he made about author E. Jean Carroll, even if he made those comments while he was president.
Carroll sued Trump in 2020 for defamation, but that case has so far been delayed due to appeals over whether Trump could be liable since he was president at the time.
That case is separate from the one in which Carroll accused Trump of rape during an encounter in 1996 in a department store. In May of 2023, a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing Carroll and then defaming her over the allegations. The jury rejected Carroll's rape claim.
In the matter of the 2020 defamation lawsuit, the Justice Department originally agreed with Trump's lawyers, who said Trump's comments were protected under the Westfall Act. The act says federal employees — including the president — have absolute immunity from lawsuits over their conduct while they're employed.
But now the department says there is "no longer a sufficient basis to conclude that the former President was motivated by 'more than an insignificant' desire to serve the United States Government."
The decision opens a way forward for the suit to go to trial, which is currently scheduled for January of 2024.
"We are grateful that the Department of Justice has reconsidered its position," Carroll's lawyer Robbie Kaplan said in a statement. "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 of the United States."
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