Legal experts: Trump “just blasted his own defense apart” in Truth Social rant about rape accuser

Defamation court battle appears "very dangerous for Trump," legal analyst says

Published October 19, 2022 2:47PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas.  (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump may have undercut his legal defense in a defamation lawsuit after lashing out on Truth Social against rape accuser E. Jean Carroll.

Carroll, a longtime Elle Magazine columnist, accused Trump of rape in a 2019 book, alleging that he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s. Carroll claimed Trump pushed her against the wall, pulled down her tights and forced himself on her. 

Trump at the time claimed that he and Carroll had never met and that she was "totally lying," arguing that she was "not my type." Carroll filed a defamation suit against the former president, claiming that his attacks harmed her reputation.

Trump this week on Truth Social claimed that the "'Ms. Bergdorf Goodman' case is a complete con job," and repeated that Carroll was not his "type." 

"It is a Hoax and a lie, just like all the other Hoaxes that have been played on me for the past seven years," Trump wrote. "And, while I am not supposed to say it, I will."

Carroll's legal team declined to comment on the matter. "The latest statement from Donald Trump obviously does not merit a response," a spokesperson for Carroll's legal team said in a statement.

The tirade may have blown a hole in Trump's defense in the case. His lawyers have long argued that he couldn't be held personally responsible in the suit because any denials of the allegations came during his term and thus were a part of his official duties as president. 

However, his latest denial and online harassment of Carroll were made as a private citizen, at a time when he is no longer protected by the presidency.

Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor for Detroit, said Carroll would benefit from amending her complaint to include an additional count based on the Truth Social post. "Because Trump is no longer president, this statement was most certainly not made in the scope of his federal employment," McQuade told VICE News.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe agreed that "Trump just blasted his own defense apart in the defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll."

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A Washington D.C. court is now deciding whether Trump was an official federal employee when he made his statement of denial in 2019 — if so, the United States could be listed as the defendant in the case, essentially nulling the suit as the federal government cannot be sued for defamation.

Manhattan Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan in 2020 rejected the notion that Trump was performing official duties when he made his first statements about Carroll. Kaplan wrote that "the allegations have no relationship to the official business of the United States." He said this month that Trump "should not be permitted to run the clock out."

The judge ordered Trump to sit for a deposition on Wednesday. 

Trump's team is sticking by the claim.

"We are confident that the D.C. Court of Appeals will find that our client was acting within the scope of his employment when properly repudiating Ms. Carroll's allegations," Trump attorney Alina Habba said in a recent statement to the New York Times

The announcement comes just weeks after Habba asked Kaplan to delay the deposition until the D.C. appeal was decided, arguing that if her client won, the case would disappear. The request was denied on Oct. 12, as Kaplan found that Trump had brought the case to Washington "with the effect and probably the purpose of delaying it." A trial date has been set for Feb. 6, 2023.

Carroll's lawyers have also said that she plans to file another case against Trump in November under a new state law allowing victims of sexual assault a one-time opportunity to sue, even if, as in this case, the statute of limitations has expired.

"The question whether Mr. Trump in fact raped Ms. Carroll is central to this case," Judge Kaplan explained. "It will be central also to the new case."

CNN legal analyst Paul Callan warned that the case could be "dangerous" for Trump as his legal problems mount.

"He is being charged, essentially in a defamation case, with rape," Callan explained. "[Carroll] brings the case not as a rape case but as a defamation case because the statute of limitations was gone on the rape case. However, when he gives this press conference saying, 'She's a liar, I never raped her, she's not my type, she's just doing it to amp up book sales,' she says he defamed her and that gets the rape case in."

"There's one sleeper fact in this case that I think is very dangerous for Trump," Callan added. "She claims she still has an article of clothing that she was wearing 23 years ago when the former president allegedly raped her and she wants to be able to have DNA sample testing done with respect to that in connection with this case. So we will see how that plays out."

Conservative attorney George Conway, a frequent Trump critic, wrote on Twitter that Trump had a chance of winning the defamation case if he had not issued "a BRAND NEW statement REPEATING all the earlier defamatory statements, but since you're no longer POTUS, you NO LONGER HAVE THAT DEFENSE you've been pushing for years that you made the statements while you were president!!!"

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

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