The Department of Justice has told a federal judge in New York that it will no longer defend former president Donald Trump in a defamation case brought by writer E Jean Carroll, who earlier this year won a civil judgement against the ex-president for sexual battery and defamation in a separate matter.
In a letter to the attorneys for Mr Trump and Ms Carroll, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton said the department would now decline to certify that Mr Trump was acting in the scope of his job as President of the United States when he denied attacking Ms Carroll in June 2019 and accused her of fabricating a sexual assault claim against him to boost book sales.
Mr Boynton said the decision, which reversed an earlier effort to defend Mr Trump which had begun during his term in the White House, came due to clarified appellate court precedent which stated that courts need not always find that an elected official’s statements to the press were in the scope of their employment.
“Applying the clarified D.C. respondeat superior standard, the Department has determined that it lacks adequate evidence to conclude that the former President was sufficiently actuated by a purpose to serve the United States Government to support a determination that he was acting within the scope of his employment when he denied sexually assaulting Ms. Carroll and made the other statements regarding Ms. Carroll that she has challenged in this action,” he said.
The Justice Department official also said the department had considered new evidence of Mr Trump’s state of mind when he made the statements at issue, and determined that it “does not establish that he made the statements at issue with a ‘more than insignificant’ purpose to serve the United States Government”.
Additionally, Mr Boynton noted that even though the defamatory statements regarding Ms Carroll and the allegations she was making against Mr Trump were made during a press gaggle on the South Lawn of the White House, they were not made in the context of “a work-related incident”.
“Here, 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,” he said.
Although the Justice Department official conceded that an elected official’s “ability to retain the trust of his constituents” is “an important part of his ability to effectively perform his job,” he said the “evidence of personal motivation” in the case at hand “outweighs any public- purpose inference one might draw in other circumstances,” and cited statements Mr Trump made about Ms Carroll after he left office — and after a New York jury found that he had defamed her in a separate trial in May.
“The later statements are substantially similar to the three June 2019 statements at issue in this action, and because he was no longer the President when he made the later statements, Mr. Trump could not have been motivated by any interest in serving the United States Government,” he said.
He added later that the jury’s finding that Mr Trump sexually assaulted Ms Carroll in a department store changing room in the 1990s “supports an inference that Mr Trump was motivated by a ‘personal grievance’ stemming from events that occurred many years prior to Mr Trump’s presidency”.
Without the Department of Justice’s intervention to defend the twice-impeached ex-president, he will not be able to argue that he enjoys any immunity from the lawsuit and he will not be able to substitute the US government as a defendant in the case.
And because a prior jury already found similar statements he made about the former Elle magazine writer to be defamatory, legal experts say it will be a simple matter for Ms Carroll to obtain another jury verdict against him when the case goes to trial.
Ms Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said: “We are grateful that the Department of Justice has reconsidered its position. 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. Now that one of the last obstacles has been removed, we look forward to trial in E Jean Carroll’s original case in January 2024.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies