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Attorney Joseph Cammarata Weighs in on DOJ’s assertion of Presidential Immunity

by | Oct 23, 2020

“We’re all equal before the bar of justice, and the president is no different.”

 Do alleged defamatory statements made by a President of the United States to distract from purely private misconduct benefit the people of the United States? Attorney Joseph Cammarata, a prominent legal expert who won a landmark case on presidential immunity, said he couldn’t imagine anyone thinking such a thing.

Cammarata weighed in on the Justice Department’s claim that President Trump was acting in an official capacity, and therefore protected against the lawsuit when he disparaged a New York writer in response to her allegation that he raped her more than 20 years ago. 

“In our country, we don’t have kings, we don’t have royalty and we don’t have people who get a special privilege or pass because of their position, power or money,” said the personal injury attorney and partner with Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata & Siegel.

“We’re all equal before the bar of justice, and the president is no different. When he acts in a way to protect himself for his own personal well being and not that of the United States, he should not be shielded for his wrongdoing.”

Trump defamation suit

Former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump in New York state court last year after he denied her claim in a book that he raped her at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan during the 1990s. Trump accused Carroll of many things, including lying to sell books and being involved in a political conspiracy. Trump also said he would not have attacked her because “she’s not my type,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit was brought against Trump personally in a New York state court, but the Justice Department had it moved to federal court, claiming Trump’s statements were made in the course of his employment as President of the United States; therefore, the United States should be substituted as the defendant in the lawsuit. 

If the Justice Department is successful and the United States is substituted as the defendant, it is likely Carroll’s lawsuit will be dismissed because a claim for defamation cannot be brought against the United States.

“Another attempt to shield a president from personal responsibility.”

A key issue in the current case, Cammarata said, is whether Trump’s “vile, vicious” comments about Carroll would further the interests of the country or only serve his personal interests. 

The lawsuit should be allowed to move forward because the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously established in 1997’s Clinton v. Jones that a sitting president does not have immunity under federal civil law for incidents that took place unrelated to his official duties. Cammarata represented Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who had filed a sexual harassment case against then-President Bill Clinton claiming he had propositioned her while governor in 1991.

“The action by the Department of Justice is a novel tactic — another attempt to shield a president from personal responsibility for private misconduct,” he said. 

In the case of Clinton v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled the president did not have immunity and should stand and be held accountable for private misconduct that took place before he took office. 

“That ruling applied to President Clinton in 1997 and should apply to President Trump today,” Cammarata said.

The Justice Department’s position was to be the subject of a hearing scheduled for Oct. 21 in New York before the U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan; however, a travel ban kept the Justice Department attorney from appearing in court.

Before the scheduled hearing, Cammarata spoke with Bloomberg reporter Erik Larson about why he thinks the case should fail in court. (Read the article: DOJ Lawyer Blocked by Travel Ban in Trump Defamation Suit.)

Championing the rights of victims

In addition to the Jones case against Clinton, Cammarata represented seven women who claimed they were sexually abused and/or assaulted by comedian Bill Cosby and women who brought a class-action lawsuit after being secretly videotaped participating in a spiritual bathing ritual at a synagogue in Washington.

The Trump defamation case is of particular interest to Cammarata because it involves presidential immunity and sexual assault — two areas where he’s faced formidable, powerful opponents and won.

“I’ve been championing the rights of victims of discrimination and civil rights abuses for more than 30 years and will continue to watch this case closely,” he said. “I expect that the court will reject the president’s attempts to derail this litigation and will hold him personally accountable for the wrongdoing.”

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