NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Wednesday will consider whether to excuse President Donald Trump from a defamation lawsuit by a writer who accused him of raping her in a Manhattan department store a quarter century ago and then falsely denying it happened.
In an afternoon hearing, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan is expected to weigh a request by E. Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine columnist, to stop Attorney General William Barr’s effort to intervene on Trump’s behalf.
The Department of Justice has argued that Trump acted in his official capacity when denying Carroll’s claims because they were matters that interested the public or his constituents, and therefore could not be sued personally for defamation.
It wants to substitute the federal government for Trump as a defendant, and formally move Carroll’s case to federal court from the New York state court where it began. That would shield Trump from liability and likely doom Carroll’s defamation claim.
The lawsuit is one of many legal actions Trump faces as he prepares to seek reelection on Nov. 3.
Carroll sued Trump over his denials to the press in June 2019 that he had raped her in Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s or even knew who she was, claiming that Carroll made up the story to sell a new book. Trump added: “She’s not my type.”
In August, Justice Verna Saunders of a Manhattan state court rejected Trump’s bid to postpone the lawsuit, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance to enforce a subpoena for the president’s tax returns.
The Supreme Court had rejected Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from criminal proceedings while in office, a ruling the Manhattan judge said applied to state court proceedings involving his unofficial or personal conduct.
Saunders’ decision paved the way for Carroll’s lawyers to seek a DNA sample from Trump, which the writer hoped to match against the dress she said she wore at Bergdorf Goodman. That process went on hold when the Justice Department intervened.
Carroll’s lawyers have said Trump did not act in his official role when denying her claims, and that the Federal Tort Claims Act shielding many government employees from defamation claims did not cover the president.
They also accused Trump of hiding behind his office to avoid accountability when it suited him, sometimes claiming that his business dealings and Twitter activity were “personal” matters beyond court review.
Several women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct occurring before he took office. He has denied their claims.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy