The Justice Department said Tuesday that it would no longer argue that President Donald J. Trump’s derogatory statements about E. Jean Carroll in 2019 were made as part of his official duties as president — a reversal that gives new momentum to her case.
Ms. Carroll, 79, who already has won a trial accusing Mr. Trump of sexual abuse years ago and defamation after he left the White House, now is trying to push forward a separate lawsuit that has been mired in appeals. If a judge ultimately finds that Mr. Trump’s comments were part of his official duties, that case could be dismissed because a president cannot be sued for defamation.
The Justice Department had taken the position, first during the Trump administration and later under President Biden, that Mr. Trump was acting in his official capacity when he called Ms. Carroll a liar and denied her accusation that he had raped her nearly 30 years ago in a Manhattan department store dressing room.
But the department said in a court filing Tuesday that new evidence had surfaced since Mr. Trump, 77, left office in January 2021 — including in the recent civil trial in which a Manhattan jury found Mr. Trump liable for sexually assaulting Ms. Carroll.
The fresh set of facts “supports an inference that Mr. Trump was motivated by a ‘personal grievance’ stemming from events that occurred many years prior to Mr. Trump’s presidency,” department lawyers wrote in the filing.
The department noted that Mr. Trump’s 2019 statements about Ms. Carroll were made through official channels that presidents often use to communicate with the news media. But, the department said, “Although the statements themselves were made in a work context, the allegations that prompted the statements related to a purely personal incident: an alleged sexual assault that occurred decades prior to Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
A lawyer for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, said in a statement: “We are grateful that the Department of Justice has reconsidered its position. We have always believed that Donald Trump made his defamatory statements about our client in June 2019 out of personal animus, ill will, and spite, and not as president of the United States.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.