Last month, a federal jury held Trump liable for sexual assault and defamation in a trial for another lawsuit filed by Carroll, who claims Trump assaulted her in the dressing room of an upscale department store. Trump is appealing that verdict.
The libel claim in Caroll’s first trial involved a comment Trump made in 2022, in which he called Carroll’s allegation a « hoax. » Carroll’s other lawsuit — the case Kaplan decided on Thursday — centers on comments Trump made in 2019, while he occupied the White House.
At the time, Trump called Carroll’s claim « a totally false allegation. » He also said in an interview with The Hill newspaper: “I’ll say it with great respect: number one, he’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, okay? »
Trump had lobbied Kaplan to find that his response to Carroll’s allegations in 2019 was linked to his official presidential responsibilities because it correlated to his ability to govern. Typically, presidents are immune from any legal action related to their official conduct, and the courts have interpreted that immunity broadly, even for actions they believe fall within the « outer perimeter » of a president’s duties.
But Trump has crossed the line with his attacks on Carroll, Kaplan ruled. A process is scheduled for January 15th.
A lawyer for Carroll, Roberta Kaplan (who is not related to the judge), said Thursday: “Trump chose to waive presidential immunity and now must live with the results of that decision. Today’s decision removes a further impediment to E Jean’s January 15 defamation settlement trial in this case.
A Trump attorney, Alina Habba, said, « We disagree with the court’s decision and will take appropriate steps to preserve all viable defenses. »
It’s not the first time a federal judge has ruled that Trump’s comment as president fell outside the bounds of his immunity from the lawsuit.
In February 2021, with a 112-page ruling, US District Court Judge Amit Mehta concluded that Trump’s speech to supporters on January 6, 2021 was similarly disconnected from his presidential responsibilities. Kaplan cited approvingly Mehta’s reasoningspecifically his determination that the « context » of a president’s words determine whether they pertain to his official duties.
In some ways, Kaplan’s analysis of Trump’s immunity was misplaced. He also ruled that Trump brought up the immunity defense too late to be considered, nearly three years after Carroll filed the first lawsuit. Trump argued in recent filings that he didn’t have to raise the defense because presidential immunity should automatically cover his actions. But Kaplan flatly dismissed that notion, noting that presidents and others with legal immunities are often required to raise them affirmatively for courts to consider.
“Such a requirement would contradict the findings of many of the other civil lawsuits filed against Mr. Trump over actions during his presidency, in at least one of which…Mr. Trump agreed with the plaintiff that absolute presidential immunity was not a ‘threshold issue that needs to be decided before we get to the merits,’” Kaplan noted.
Also, Kaplan said, Carroll has been feuding for years and enforcing presidential immunity now would delay his quest for justice.
« He is now 79 and, as just mentioned, has been fighting this case for more than three and a half years, » Kaplan wrote. “There is no basis to risk further prolonging the resolution of this litigation by allowing Trump to raise his defense of absolute immunity now to the 11th hour when he could have done so years ago.”
Trump has, for years, made a particularly radical argument in support of presidential immunity, arguing that whenever a president speaks up on matters of public concern he is immune from civil lawsuits.