Trump lashes out after Justice Department no longer says presidency shields him from defamation suit

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BY LARRY NEUMEISTER

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump lashed out on social media against the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday after it stopped supporting his claim that the presidency shields him from liability against a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he sexually attacked her in the mid-1990s.

Trump said in a post on his social media platform that the department’s reversal a day earlier in the lawsuit brought by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll was part of the “political Witch Hunt” he faces while campaigning for the presidency as a Republican.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Carroll, 79, sued Trump, 77, for defamation months after he vehemently denied her claims first made publicly in a 2019 memoir that a chance encounter between the pair at a Bergdorf Goodman store began with flirtations but ended in a violent encounter inside a dressing room in a desolate section of the store.

The progression of the lawsuit, filed in 2020, was delayed for three years as an appeals court considered claims by Trump and the Justice Department that he was protected from liability for remarks he made while president. When Joe Biden became president, the Justice Department did not change its position.

But the department said in a letter to a Manhattan federal judge on Tuesday that circumstances have changed since it made its original recommendation and it no longer believes Trump can claim that his comments about Carroll were carried out as part of his official duties as president.

It noted that a court in Washington, D.C., had recently further defined when a president is immune from civil lawsuits, and it cited a federal jury’s $5 million award to Carroll in May after finding that Trump had sexually abused and defamed her, though he didn’t rape her. It also considered that the lawsuit has been updated with remarks Trump made about Carroll’s claims after leaving the presidency.

In three posts Wednesday on Truth Social, Trump offered fresh support for claims he made about Carroll that led the jury to conclude he had defamed her.

“The statements that I made about Carroll are all true. I didn’t Rape her (I won that at trial) and other than for this case, I have NO IDEA WHO SHE IS, WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE, OR ANYTHING ABOUT HER….,” he wrote.

The trial resulted from a lawsuit Carroll filed in November after New York state temporarily enabled adult victims of sexual attacks to sue their abusers for damages even if the abuse occurred decades earlier. Her defamation claim at the trial resulted from statements Trump made last October.

For several days, Carroll testified that Trump’s attack caused her to shut down her romantic life afterward, and his comments after her memoir was published shattered her reputation and led to a “staggering” onslaught of hateful and occasionally threatening messages toward her.

Trump did not appear at the two-week trial, though significant portions of an October videotaped deposition were shown to the jury.

In Wednesday’s social media posts, Trump called the trial “very unfair,” criticized the judge as hostile and biased, and said his lawyers “due to their respect for the Office of the President and the incredulity of the case, did not want me to testify, or even be at the trial…..”

He added: “WE ARE STRONGLY APPEALING THIS TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE!!!”

A day after the verdict, Trump repeated many of his earlier claims about Carroll during a CNN town hall, prompting Carroll to amend her original defamation lawsuit to include those remarks. She now seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and substantially more in punitive damages at a trial scheduled for January that may consist only of a damages phase.

Trump then countersued, saying Carroll defamed him with comments she made a day after the verdict.

The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.

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