Last month, a federal judge Trump was found liable for sexual assault and defamation At the hearing, another lawsuit brought by Carroll alleged that Trump assaulted her in the dressing room of a luxury department store. Trump is appealing the ruling.
The defamation claim in Carroll’s first trial involved a comment Trump made in 2022 in which he called Carroll’s allegations a “hoax.” Carroll’s other lawsuit — the one Kaplan settled Thursday — centers on comments Trump made while occupying the White House in 2019.
At the time, Trump called Carroll’s claim a “completely false allegation.” He told The Hill newspaper in an interview: “I’ll say it with the utmost respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it’s never going to happen. It’s never going to happen, okay?”
Trump pressed Kaplan in 2019 to find that his response to Carroll’s allegations was tied to his official presidential responsibilities as it relates to his ability to govern. In general, presidents are immune from any lawsuits related to their official conduct, and courts have interpreted that immunity broadly, even for actions they say are the “outer perimeter” of the president’s duties.
But Trump crossed the line with his attacks on Carroll, and Kaplan ruled. An investigation Jan. Scheduled for 15th.
Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan (no relation to the judge), said Thursday: “Trump chose to waive presidential immunity, and now he must live with the consequences of that decision. Today’s ruling removes another obstacle to EJean’s Jan. 15 hearing on defamation damages in this case.”
“We disagree with the court’s decision and will take appropriate steps to secure all possible defenses,” Trump’s attorney Alina Hubba said.
This isn’t the first time a federal judge has ruled that Trump’s comments as president fell outside the scope of immunity from prosecution.
In a February 2021, 112-page judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta concluded Trump’s speech to his supporters on January 6, 2021 was similarly stripped of his presidential duties. Kaplan quotes approvingly Mehta’s justificationEspecially his assertion that the “context” of the President’s words determines whether they relate to his official duties.
In some ways, Kaplan’s analysis of Trump’s immunity was beside the point. He also ruled that Trump raised the immunity defense too late to be considered — about three years after Carroll first filed suit. Trump has argued in recent filings that he doesn’t need to heighten security because presidential immunity should automatically cover his actions. But Kaplan vehemently rejected that idea, noting that presidents and others with statutory exemptions must raise them affirmatively for the courts to consider them.
“Such a requirement would conflict with the results of several civil cases filed against Mr. Trump for actions he took while he was president, in at least one of which … Mr. Trump agreed with the plaintiff that absolute presidential immunity is not a ‘threshold issue.’ Kaplan noted.
Besides, Carroll has been suing for years, and using presidential immunity now would delay his pursuit of justice.
“She is now 79 years old and, as noted, has been prosecuting this case for over three and a half years,” Kaplan wrote. “There is no basis to risk further delaying the resolution of this case by allowing Mr. Trump to raise his absolute immunity at the eleventh hour, as he might have done years ago.”
Trump has, for years, made a big argument in favor of presidential immunity, arguing that any time a president speaks on matters of public concern he is immune from civil suit.