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No immunity for Donald Trump

July 12, 2023

By Kara Scannell, CNN

(CNN) — The US Justice Department has reversed course and said it no longer believes that Donald Trump should be entitled to immunity for his response to E. Jean Carroll’s accusation of sexual assault, allowing the civil lawsuit to move forward to trial in January.

The change in position eliminates one legal hurdle surrounding Carroll’s 2019 defamation lawsuit against Trump for statements he made while president, denying her allegation of rape decades earlier, that he didn’t know her, and that she wasn’t his “type.”

DOJ lawyers said in a letter to lawyers for Trump and Carroll that “the Department has determined that it lacks adequate evidence” to conclude the former president was acting within the scope of his employment or serving the US government “when he denied sexually assaulting Ms. Carroll and made the other statements regarding Ms. Carroll that she has challenged in this action.”

Initially, the Justice Department under both the Trump and Biden administrations said Trump was acting within the scope of his duties when responding to reporters’ questions in 2019 about Carroll’s allegations. That essentially meant that the Justice Department would be substituted as a defendant and the case would likely be dismissed.

The case has been held up on appeal over what constitutes the scope of an employees’ duties until a Washington, DC, court provided guidance this spring, sending the case back to the judge. The DOJ was given until Thursday to state its position. Trump’s and Carroll’s lawyers will also have an opportunity to weigh in.

In addition, in a separate lawsuit brought by Carroll last year under a New York law allowing a one-year lookback for civil claims involving sexual assaults, a federal jury in May found that Trump sexually abused Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room in the spring of 1996 and awarded her $5 million for battery and defamation. Trump, who is appealing the decision, does not face any jail time as a result of the civil verdict.

In light of the developments, the Justice Department said its position had changed.

Justice Department lawyers said they took into consideration Trump’s deposition that was played in the battery and defamation trial, as well as statements Trump made last October repeating the denials long after he left office, as an indication that he was not motivated to protect and serve the US when he first made the comments.

Lawyers for the Justice Department wrote that after balancing and weighing the evidence “from Mr. Trump’s deposition, the jury verdict in Carroll II, and the new allegations in the Amended Complaint, the Department has determined that 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,” lawyers for the Justice Department wrote.

“And a jury has now found that Mr. Trump sexually assaulted Ms. Carroll long before he became President. That history 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,” the Justice Department wrote.

The judge has scheduled the trial for January, at the start of the presidential primary season.

Trump responded to the Justice Department’s reversal on social media Wednesday, calling it “all part of the political Witch Hunt.”

Trump’s attorneys couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, said they 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,” Kaplan said.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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