Trump is invoking a ‘presidential immunity’ defense in the defamation lawsuit brought against him by E. Jean Carroll. This legal strategy is similar to the immunity defense his lawyers are using in one of his criminal cases. Trump contends that he cannot be held accountable for remarks he made about Carroll in 2019 while he was in office, in which he accused her of making a false rape claim against him for financial gain. A district judge dismissed Trump’s immunity claim earlier this year, leading him to appeal to the 2nd Circuit Court. The three-judge panel, all appointed by Democrats, did not give any clear signals during the 45-minute hearing on how they might rule.
Carroll has already secured one civil victory against Trump. Earlier this year, a jury found in favor of Carroll in a separate lawsuit, concluding that Trump had sexually abused her in the 1990s and defamed her in 2022 by labeling her account a “hoax.” The jury awarded Carroll $5 million, a decision Trump has appealed.
The trial scheduled for January pertains to another lawsuit from Carroll, focusing on Trump’s 2019 comments and statements he made earlier this year on CNN following the verdict in the first trial. In September, a judge determined that the jury in the upcoming trial would only need to decide the amount of damages Trump should pay Carroll, having already ruled that Trump’s comments were defamatory. However, if the appeals court accepts Trump’s immunity argument, the question of his liability for the 2019 comments could become irrelevant.