E. Jean Carroll wrote in her 2019 memoir that Trump assaulted her in the dressing room of a New York department store in the mid-1990s. He responded by saying she was “totally lying” and “not my type.” (Years later, shown a photograph of Carroll at the time of the alleged assault, Trump mistook her for his second wife.) The Justice Department has argued that Trump was performing the presidential duty of responding (however distastefully) to a press inquiry and so the defendant should be the United States, not Trump in his personal capacity.
Adopting the Justice Department’s position would end Carroll’s suit because the federal government cannot be sued for defamation. A federal court in New York, unable to reach a decision, asked for the D.C. appellate court to interpret the city’s employment law.
The court declined. “That is a fact-intensive question for the factfinder and cannot be resolved as a matter of law in either party’s favor on the record before us,” the eight-judge panel wrote.
The case will be sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit for an ultimate ruling on whether the case will go forward.
The D.C. court did clarify its understanding of the employment law in ways that are generally helpful to Carroll.
“Elected officials speaking to the press” are not always acting “within the scope of that official’s employment,” the court said, and “the moments surrounding” the statements should be considered to parse “potentially shifting motivations.” Finally, the court said that a professional motivation can be so “insignificant” that it does not count as work.
One of the eight judges agreed with the overall decision but dissented on some of that analysis, calling it “confusing and unnecessary.”
Attorneys for both Carroll and Trump declined to comment. On Tuesday, an attorney for Trump asked for a four-week “cooling off” delay in the trial scheduled for April 25, saying the publicity around the former president’s indictment on wire fraud charges would prejudice the jury. Trump’s attorney also asked for a month-long adjournment to explore a source of a funding for Carroll’s legal expenses. Carroll had said in a deposition that no one else was paying her legal fees and that her attorneys were working on contingency, meaning they get paid only if she wins a financial award. Carroll then disclosed through attorneys that she later recalled her legal team had secured funding for expenses from a nonprofit backed by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman.
The federal judge overseeing the case on Thursday granted Trump’s team “a brief and carefully circumscribed examination” of what Carroll knew about her financial support but said the trial is still set for April 25.
Carroll’s lawyers opposed both requests. “One thing is clear—Trump will stop at nothing to avoid having a jury hear Carroll’s claims,” her attorney Roberta Kaplan said in a court filing Thursday.