By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) -A federal judge on Thursday rejected Donald Trump’s bid to dismiss the first of writer E. Jean Carroll’s two lawsuits accusing the former U.S. president of defamation for denying he raped her in the mid-1990s.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan found no merit in Trump’s arguments that he deserved absolute presidential immunity, and that many of his statements about Carroll were opinion and thus protected.
The judge also rejected Trump’s claim that the former Elle magazine columnist “consented” to his statements by purposely waiting decades to go public, until he was in the White House, leaving him “no choice” but to defend himself.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, said: “We disagree with the court’s decision and will be taking the appropriate steps to preserve all viable defenses.”
The case is separate from last month’s verdict by a federal jury in Manhattan that Trump pay Carroll $5 million for defamation and sexual abuse, after Trump in October 2022 similarly denied their alleged encounter. Jurors did not find that Trump raped Carroll.
Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, said Thursday’s decision “confirms that once again, Donald Trump’s supposed defenses to E. Jean Carroll’s defamation claims don’t work.”
Now 79, Carroll drew Trump’s ire in June 2019 when she accused him in New York magazine, as she was preparing to release her memoir, of having attacked her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan.
That prompted Trump, 77, to say he had not known Carroll, that she was not his “type,” and that she lied to drum up book sales.
BEYOND THE ‘OUTER PERIMETER’
In his 46-page decision, Kaplan said Trump waited too long to raise the absolute immunity defense, and that it would be unfair to Carroll to let him do so now and further delay the 3-1/2-year-old case.
The judge also said Trump’s criticism of Carroll went beyond “the outer perimeter of his official duties” as president.
“Mr. Trump does not identify any connection between the allegedly defamatory content of his statements — that Ms. Carroll fabricated her sexual assault accusation and did so for financial and personal gain — to any official responsibility of the president,” Kaplan wrote. “Nor can the court think of any.”
Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is appealing the $5 million jury verdict.
On Tuesday, he countersued Carroll, claiming that she defamed him in a CNN interview one day after the May 9 verdict by saying, “oh yes he did, oh yes he did,” when asked about the jury finding that he did not commit rape.
Carroll’s original lawsuit is scheduled for a Jan. 15, 2024, trial.
She is seeking at least $10 million in damages. Kaplan this month let her amend her lawsuit to add Trump’s comments from a CNN town hall following the jury verdict, in which he called her account “fake” and labeled her a “whack job.”
The case is Carroll v Trump, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 20-07311.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)
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