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Trump might be protected from E. Jean Carroll lawsuit, court rules

An appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Justice Department may be able to shield former President Donald Trump from a 2019 defamation suit filed by author E. Jean Carroll.

The court ruled Tuesday that as an employee of the federal government, the president is protected from certain lawsuits. Trump's attorneys had been joined by attorneys with the Justice Department in arguing that the president is protected from certain lawsuits by the Westfall Act, which shields federal employees from suits related to their work.

The author filed the lawsuit in 2019, while Trump was still president and after he accused her of "totally lying" when she said he sexually assaulted her in a high-end New York City department store in the 1990s. In October 2021, a federal judge in New York ruled that Trump was not shielded from Carroll's suit.

"We reverse the District Court's holding that the President of the United States is not an employee of the government under the Westfall Act," the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit wrote Tuesday.

However, the court left unresolved the question of whether Trump's comments about Carroll were made in his capacity as president, or should be considered as separate from his work as president.

The Second Circuit wrote that it deferred to the highest D.C. court — the D.C. Court of Appeals — to decide the question: "Were the allegedly libelous public statements made….within the scope of his employment as President of the United States?"

An attorney for Trump did not immediately return a request for comment.

2019 Glamour Women Of The Year Summit
E. Jean Carroll speaks onstage during the How to Write Your Own Life panel at the 2019 Glamour Women Of The Year Summit at Alice Tully Hall on November 10, 2019 in New York City.  Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Glamour

Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for Carroll, pointed to Judge Denny Chin's dissenting opinion in the case, in which he wrote that Trump was not acting within the scope of his duties when he said things like "she's not my type" about Carroll.

"We are confident that the D.C. Court of Appeals, where this case is now headed on certification, will agree," Kaplan said in a statement to CBS News. She added that Carroll plans to file a sexual battery lawsuit in New York under the state's new Adult Survivors Act, which goes into effect on Nov. 24.

A Justice Department attorney argued in December that even though "the former president made crude and offensive comments in response to the very serious accusations of sexual assault" the law protecting employees like the president from such a lawsuit should be upheld.

At that same Second Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, Trump attorney Alina Habba said Carroll should be considered a "public figure," and therefore subject to a high bar for defamation claims.

Joshua Matz, an attorney for Carroll, claimed that Trump had "private, personal reasons" for allegedly defaming Carroll. Matz argued that "a White House job is not a promise of an unlimited prerogative to brutalize victims of prior wrongdoing."

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