E. Jean Carroll arrives at federal court on October 21 for a hearing about her defamation suit against President Donald Trump, in New York City. Carroll, who's accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s, sued the president for defamatory remarks after her book was published last year. Photo by Justin Lane/EPA-EFE
Oct. 27 (UPI) -- A defamation case brought by a magazine columnist against President Donald Trump will proceed after a federal judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by the Justice Department to intervene.
The suit was brought against the president by former columnist E. Jean Carroll and says Trump raped her in the 1990s.
The department attempted to shield Trump by stepping in as the defendant in the suit -- a move experts say would have ended the case, since the government can't be sued for defamation.
Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled, however, that the department cannot be regarded as the defendant -- and also said Trump is not a federal "employee" under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which shields federal workers from litigation seeking damages.
Carroll, a former columnist for Elle magazine, accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in 1995 or 1996. When asked about the accusation last year, Trump denied that he'd ever met Carroll and said her claims were intended to sell a book she had just written.
"No. 1 she's not my type. No. 2 it never happened," he said.
In his ruling, Judge Kaplan said the Justice Department's contention revolved around two questions -- Is the president an "employee of the government," and if so, were his statements about Carroll within the scope of his "employment" under the law?
"The answer to both questions is 'no,'" Judge Kaplan said.
Carroll filed the suit a year ago, saying Trump's remarks "inflicted emotional pain and suffering" and damaged her reputation by causing "substantial professional harm."
After a federal judge ruled in August the suit could go forward, Carroll's attorney Roberta A. Kaplan said she was shocked by the department's move to defend Trump and accused the president of trying to stall the case.
"Trump's effort to wield the power of the U.S. government to evade responsibility for his private misconduct is without precedent and shows even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out," she said.