Trump fails to narrow rape accuser's case as trial looms

FILE PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump greets fans as he arrives at NCAA Wrestling Championships

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday denied Donald Trump's bid to throw out E. Jean Carroll's defamation claim from next month's high-profile trial over whether Trump raped the former Elle magazine columnist in the mid-1990s.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan rejected Trump's claim that "absolute litigation privilege" immunized the former president for allegedly defaming Carroll last Oct. 12 on his Truth Social media platform by denying the rape occurred.

Lawyers for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The scheduled April 25 trial relates to Trump's alleged rape of Carroll in late 1995 or early 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan.

Carroll is also pursuing a battery claim under a New York law that lets sexual abuse survivors sue their alleged attackers long after statutes of limitations have run out.

In his Oct. 12 post, Trump said he did not know Carroll, that she made up the rape claim to promote her memoir, and that the claim was a "hoax," "lie," "con job" and "complete scam."

The post substantively repeated many comments Trump made in June 2019 at the White House, which prompted a still-pending lawsuit by Carroll five months later.

Trump said his post amounted to commentary about Carroll's earlier lawsuit and his defenses, and therefore was protected.

But the judge said Trump's post was neither a "report of any judicial proceeding" nor a "fair and true report" of such a proceeding that would justify immunity.

"Instead," Kaplan wrote, "it is an amalgamation of Mr. Trump's personal views and comments on a wide range of subjects, including the legal system of the United States and of New York, this court, Ms. Carroll and her rape accusation against him, CNN and its journalist Anderson Cooper, and Ms. Carroll's counsel.

"The way it is stylized ... belies the notion that Mr. Trump was even attempting to provide a fair and true report of a judicial proceeding," Kaplan added.

Trump is awaiting a decision by a grand jury empanelled by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over whether to indict him over his alleged role in a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Security has been ramped up outside the Manhattan Criminal Court where Trump, now making his third White House run, would have to defend against any charges.

Last week, Kaplan said Trump will get an anonymous jury in Carroll's case, reflecting the "extensive pretrial publicity and a very strong risk that jurors will fear harassment, unwanted invasions of their privacy, and retaliation."

The case is Carroll v Trump, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No 22-10016.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)