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The Justice Department reverses course in defending Trump in the E. Jean Carroll case

The Justice Department has abandoned plans to defend Donald Trump in a lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll. her rape allegation.

The “department has determined that there is no longer sufficient basis for concluding that the former president was motivated by a ‘more than petty’ desire to serve the government of the United States,” when he disparaged Carroll four years ago in remarks to reporters.

Trump’s comments came shortly after Carroll, a writer, claimed he raped her in the dressing room of a New York City department store in the mid-1990s. Carroll then sued Trump for defamation, and the Justice Department came to represent him at the time, arguing that he should have full immunity from his comments because he “acted within the scope of his office and work as President of the United States.” States when he made the statements.”

In a letter Tuesday to attorneys involved in the case, the Justice Department said it had changed its stance given new evidence, including a jury verdict this year finding Trump liable for sexually assaulting Carroll and defamatory remarks he made. made about her after he left the White. House.

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The reversal reduces Trump’s chances of escaping liability in Carroll’s remaining lawsuit against him.

Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, welcomed the Justice Department’s decision.

“We are grateful that the Justice Department has reconsidered its position,” Kaplan said in a statement. “We have always believed that Donald Trump made his defamatory statements about our client in June 2019 out of personal animosity, ill will and resentment, and not as President of the United States.”

A Trump attorney was not immediately available for comment.

Carroll’s other defamation suit against Trump, filed last year and containing complaints that he called her claims a “hoax” after he left the White House, resulted in a $5 million jury verdict against Trump in May. He appealed the verdict and asked for a new trial.

That case eventually settled first as Carroll’s original lawsuit — which the Justice Department took a position on Tuesday — was deadlocked in appeals over whether Trump’s 2019 comments were protected by the Westfall Act, which gave federal employees “absolute immunity.” against lawsuits based on conduct “in the course of their official duties.”

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Then-Attorney General William Barr said the statute applied in that case because the media had asked Trump to comment on the allegations.

The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, disagreed, saying he did not believe the Westfall Act applied to the presidency and that Trump’s comments about something that would have happened more than two decades ago happened, were not within the scope of the case. his official appearance as president.

His ruling sparked a lengthy appeals process, in which the Justice Department’s defense of Trump extended to the Biden administration. The case was returned this year to Kaplan, who is unrelated to Carroll’s attorney, after going through two appeals courts.

One such court ruled that in Westfall Act cases the government should consider whether the alleged behavior was motivated by people trying to do their government work.

Trump had insisted he should speak out strongly against Carroll because her claims could damage his presidency.

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In its letter Tuesday, the Justice Department cited Trump’s continued trash-talking of Carroll even after he left office as evidence that his motivations were personal and not government-driven.

“And a jury has now found that Mr. Trump sexually assaulted Ms. Carroll long before he became president. That history supports the conclusion that Mr. Trump was motivated by a “personal grievance” that arose from events that occurred many years prior to Mr. Trump. Trump’s presidency,” the Justice Department said.

The case will go to court in January.

Carroll is seeking at least $10 million in damages for comments Trump made about her at the White House and in the wake of the $5 million jury verdict.

Trump has denied any allegations in the case, stating that Carroll’s claims are fabricated.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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