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Home Lawsuit Donald Trump is suing ABC and George Stephanopoulos for saying he was ‘found liable for rape’ more than 10 times during an interview with Nancy Mace, despite a judge's finding

Donald Trump is suing ABC and George Stephanopoulos for saying he was ‘found liable for rape’ more than 10 times during an interview with Nancy Mace, despite a judge's finding

Just eight days after ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Trump sued the network and Stephanopoulos for defamation.

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Nancy Mace, George Stephanopoulos

Rep. Nancy Mace, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on March 10, 2024 (ABC News/screengrab)

Just eight days after Rep. Nancy Mace was interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, she was asked to explain how she, as a rape victim, could support former President Donald Trump, given that a jury found him “liable for rape” in the E. Jean Carroll civil case. Trump’s Miami lawyer then filed a lawsuit against the network and Stephanopoulos.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Alejandro Brito in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Monday, argues that ABC and Stephanopoulos defamed Trump by repeatedly saying that he was “found liable for rape” even though the jury verdict sheet specifically said “no” to that finding.

Trump basically argued that Stephanopoulos must have known his statements were false because of his “vast experience as a journalist” and once “specifically” asked E. Jean Carroll how she felt that Trump “was not found liable for rape.” The plaintiff further said that ABC did not apologize, only changing an article headline from “Nancy Mace defends her support Trump after he was found liable for rape” to “Nancy Mace defends her support Trump after he was found liable for sexual assault.”

Leaving aside commentary on the tactic of arguing in the context of a defamation action that it wasn’t rape, it was just sexual assault, the Trump lawsuit conspicuously does not mention Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s statements on the issue, except for quoting Stephanopoulos’ “It’s been affirmed by a judge” line. Lewis Kaplan has said on the issue.

After Trump was found liable for sexually assaulting and defaming Carroll in May 2023, Judge Kaplan two months later rejected the defendant’s motion for a new trial based on jury error.

Kaplan said that Trump was “entirely unpersuasive” in arguing that the millions in damages were excessive as “groping” and other offenses of that level are a “far cry from rape.”

“So why does this matter?” the judge asked before answering his own question. “It matters because Mr. Trump now contends that the jury’s $2 million compensatory damages award for Ms. Carroll’s sexual assault claim was excessive because the jury concluded that he had not ‘raped’ Ms. Carroll. Its verdict, he says, could have been based upon no more than ‘groping of [Ms. Carroll’s] breasts through clothing or similar conduct, which is a far cry from rape.’ And while Mr. Trump is right that a $2 million award for such groping alone could well be regarded as excessive, that undermines rather than supports his argument.”

The judge didn’t stop here, writing that even though the jury checked off the box for “not liable for rape,” the sexual assault at issue was forcible digital penetration, which “many people commonly understand” to be rape even if New York Penal Law does not apply..

Kaplan stated that although Ms. Carroll did not prove she was 'raped' according to New York Penal Law, she did prove that Mr. Trump 'raped' her in the commonly understood sense of the word. The evidence at trial indicated that the jury found Mr. Trump did exactly that.

The judge then added in a note that he made a finding: “As the jury’s response to Question 2 was an implicit finding that Mr. Trump forcibly digitally penetrated Ms. Carroll’s vagina, no explicit independent finding by the Court is necessary. Nevertheless, the Court alternatively finds that he did so.”

Kaplan said that Trump’s arguments were “foreclosed” because of the judge’s own determination that the “jury implicitly found Mr. Trump did in fact digitally rape Ms. Carroll.”

Renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams told Law&Crime that Judge Kaplan’s ruling seems to be a significant obstacle for Trump’s defamation action.

“Since Judge Kaplan publicly stated in a Court document that the jury's decision amounted to a finding of rape by Donald Trump, I believe the statement that he was ‘found liable for rape’ is legally defensible, though somewhat imprecise,” Abrams said.

The Trump lawsuit against ABC and Stephanopoulos alleges two counts, one for defamation per se and the other defamation per quod. He seeks a jury trial, damages, and costs. Meanwhile, Trump’s Carroll appeal continues.

Read the lawsuit here.

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