Trump's suggestion that E. Jean Carroll was 'too ugly to rape' was too personal to be official business, appeal says
- The DC Court of Appeals is deciding whether Trump can be sued for comments about E. Jean Carroll.
- Trump's lawyers argue he's legally protected from being sued for remarks he made as president.
When then-President Donald Trump fiercely denied E. Jean Carroll's decades-old rape allegation in statements to the press in 2019, his words were so "malicious" and "humiliating" that they can't possibly be interpreted as being part of his job, Carroll's lawyers argued in court papers filed Thursday.
In a June 2019 essay for New York Magazine, Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s.
When Trump loudly denied Carroll's allegation — saying he didn't know her, she's not his "type," and that she made the allegation up to sell her memoir — Carroll sued him for defamation.
The case is currently in limbo after the Department of Justice intervened in an effort to get Trump removed from the lawsuit, arguing that he's covered by a federal law — the Westfall Act — that protects federal employees from being personally sued for actions committed in the course of their jobs.
While trial Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sided with Carroll, saying the Westfall Act doesn't apply, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was split 2-1 in favor of Trump — but ultimately pushed the case to the DC Court of Appeals, since the matter concerns DC law. The DC Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in the case in January, and ahead of that hearing, both sides submitted briefs spelling out their arguments.
Trump's lawyers argue that since he was talking to the press, which is part of any president's job, his comments about Carroll are protected under the Westfall Act.
But Carroll's lawyers argue in their brief, filed Thursday, that previous court rulings show the law is more nuanced.
"As this Court has repeatedly held, the fact that an employee is on duty (or is doing the kind of work he is employed to perform) is never the end of the inquiry. Instead it is just one among several factors in a scope-of-employment analysis," the brief reads.
The bombastic way Trump denied Carroll's accusation in statements to the press are evidence that he was acting out of a personal motivation and not in his role as president, Carroll's lawyers argue.
Trump "did not simply deny Carroll's claim ... he attacked her three times over four days. He implied that she was too ugly to rape. He accused her of falsifying experiences of sexual assault by other men. He concocted dark schemes and nefarious motives," Carroll's lawyers wrote in the brief.
"Trump sought to destroy and humiliate Carroll after she revealed that he had raped her decades ago. There is no basis here to find that Trump had any presidential obligation to make these statements, or that Trump did so to advance any federal purpose," the brief adds.
Carroll's lawyers go on to say that ruling in favor of Trump would go against constitutional values and set a dangerous precedent for the presidency, saying, "a White House job is not a promise of unlimited authority to brutalize victims of prior wrongdoing through vicious, personal, defamatory attacks. That is not the law — and this court should not make it so," Carroll's lawyers wrote.
An attorney for Trump did not immediately return Insider's request for comment on Friday.
Whether Trump can be sued in this case will hinge on the DC Appeals Court decision, but even if the court rules in his favor, he'll have a hard time running away from Carroll's allegations.
On Thanksgiving, Carroll filed a second lawsuit against Trump, claiming battery and a second act of defamation.
A New York law that went into effect on Thanksgiving allows Carroll to sue Trump for the alleged sexual assault even though the statute of limitations has expired.
Her second claim of defamation centers on Trump's further denials of the alleged rape in statements on Truth social in October. Since he made those comments while no longer in office, he won't be able to claim the Westfall Act in that case.
Carroll's lawyers want the two cases tried at the same time. Currently, the first defamation case is set for trial in April.
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