Appeals court denies Trump’s ‘presidential immunity’ argument in defamation lawsuit

A federal appeals court has ruled that former President Donald Trump gave up his right to argue that presidential immunity protects him from being held liable for statements he made in 2019 when he denied that he raped advice columnist E. Jean Carroll.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s ruling that Trump had effectively waived the immunity defense by not raising it when Carroll first filed a defamation lawsuit against him four years ago.

Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, said in an emailed statement that the ruling was “fundamentally flawed” and that the former president’s legal team would be immediately appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, said the ruling allows the case to move forward with a trial next month.

“We are pleased that the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Kaplan’s rulings and that we can now move forward with trial next month on January 16,” she said in an emailed statement.

Carroll’s lawsuit seeks over $10 million in damages from Trump for comments he made in 2019 — the year Carroll said in a memoir that the Republican had sexually abused her in the dressing room of a Manhattan luxury department store in 1996. Trump has adamantly denied ever encountering Carroll in the store or even knowing her.

Trump, who is again running for president next year, is also attempting to use the presidential immunity argument as he faces charges he plotted to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden.

In Carroll’s lawsuit, his lawyers argued that the lower-court judge was wrong to reject the immunity defense when it was raised three years after Carroll sued Trump.

But in a written decision Wednesday, the appeals court panel sided with U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who in August said the defense was forfeited because lawyers waited so long to assert it.

“First, Defendant unduly delayed in raising presidential immunity as a defense,” the appeals court argued in its ruling. “Three years passed between Defendant’s answer and his request for leave to amend his answer. A three-year delay is more than enough, under our precedents, to qualify as ‘undue.’”

The appeals court took the issue up in expedited fashion ahead of the January trial, which is focused on determining the damages to be awarded to Carroll.

This past spring, a jury found that Trump sexually abused Carroll, but rejected her claim that he raped her. It awarded Carroll $5 million for sexual abuse and defamation for comments Trump made about her last year.

The verdict left the original and long-delayed defamation lawsuit she brought in 2019 to be decided. Kaplan ruled that the jury’s findings earlier this year applied to the 2019 lawsuit as well since Trump’s statements, made in different years, were essentially the same in both lawsuits, leaving only the question of damages to be determined.

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