The Justice Department said Tuesday that Donald Trump he can be held personally responsible for statements he made about a woman who accused him of rape, marking a reversal of the agency’s previous stance that Trump was afforded protections because he made the comments while he was president.
In a letter to the judge presiding over the defamation lawsuit filed by columnist E. Jean Carroll in Manhattan federal court in 2020, the department says it no longer has “sufficient grounds” to conclude that Trump was motivated in his statements about Carroll’s accusations by nothing more than his desire to serve America.
The agency had previously agreed with Trump’s lawyers that he was protected from a lawsuit under the Westfall Act, which grants federal employees absolute immunity from lawsuits brought for behavior that occurred within the scope of their tenure.
Last May, a jury awarded Carroll $5 million in compensation after finding that Trump sexually assaulted her in 1996 inside a Manhattan Bergdorf Goodman store and subsequently defamed her late last year with comments about her and her accusations. Although the jury concluded that Trump sexually abused Carroll, dismissed the rape allegations.
The lawsuit was the result of a lawsuit Carroll filed last November, after New York state temporarily allowed victims of sexual abuse to file civil charges related to attacks that could have occurred as long ago as several decades.