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‘Substantially true’: ABC lawyers say Trump defamation suit against George Stephanopoulos over ‘found liable for rape’ segment ‘must be dismissed,’ cite WaPo article

Donald Trump (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File), ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week,” March 10, 2024 (ABC News/screengrab)

Attorneys representing ABC and George Stephanopoulos have asked a federal judge to throw out Donald Trump’s defamation lawsuit against the network over a March interview of Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., where the “This Week” host “more than 10 times” said the former president had been found “liable for rape” in the E. Jean Carroll civil case. The lawyers, seeking dismissal “with prejudice” so the Trump claims can’t be filed again, defended Stephanopoulos’ statements as “substantially true” and pointed to a Washington Post article that the host referred to while on air.

“In this case, former President Trump seeks to re-litigate a meritless theory of defamation that he has already lost twice in New York. Mr. Trump is collaterally estopped from doing so here,” attorneys Nathan Siegel and Rachel Fugate wrote Friday. “And if this Court were to reach the merits, at bottom, this case asserts that even after a jury has found that a person committed a violent sexual assault, it is defamatory to say that the person committed a ‘rape.’ That is not a proposition Florida law recognizes.”

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    The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, asserted that the court need not look much further than the jury verdict sheet in the Carroll case, which checked off “no” as to a rape finding.

    But what the Trump lawsuit did not grapple with, as Law&Crime reported, was what Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said in his rulings, specifically that forcible digital penetration is widely understood to be “rape.”

    “The finding that Ms. Carroll failed to prove that she was ‘raped’ within the meaning of the New York Penal Law does not mean that she failed to prove that Mr. Trump ‘raped’ her as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape,’” Kaplan wrote. “Indeed, as the evidence at trial recounted below makes clear, the jury found that Mr. Trump in fact did exactly that.”

    Next, the judge issued a finding that the “jury implicitly found Mr. Trump did in fact digitally rape Ms. Carroll.”

    During the segment, Stephanopoulos questioned Mace on how she, a rape survivor, could support Trump.

    When the clash got heated, Stephanopoulos referred to a Washington Post article on Kaplan’s ruling, headlined “Judge clarifies: Yes, Trump was found to have raped E. Jean Carroll.”

    “The judge affirmed there was, in fact, rape. Donald Trump was found to have committed rape,” Stephanopoulos said, as the graphic aired. “That’s just a fact.”

    When Mace responded “that is a civil judgment, not a criminal court. They are two different things, and you know better,” Stephanopoulos said: “I just showed you the facts.”

    The motion to dismiss pointed directly to Stephanopoulos’ citation of the Washington Post article in real-time as part of the defense of his statements.

    “Mr. Stephanopoulos even made it clear what he was referring to by displaying a Washington Post headline dated July 19, 2023, stating, ‘Judge clarifies: Yes, Trump was found to have raped E. Jean Carroll,’” the motion said. “Mr. Stephanopoulos also made clear that Trump was held liable in a ‘civil court.’ In short, there is no question that the Statements in suit—which repeat Judge Kaplan’s holdings that a jury found Trump liable for ‘rape’—were substantially accurate reports of court proceedings. Such reporting stands at the heart of Florida’s broad fair report privilege.”

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    After again attacking the Trump suit as meritless, asserting the case “must be dismissed,” and calling Stephanopoulos’ statements “substantially true,” the filing closed with a sharp retort.

    “Finally, even assuming arguendo there could somehow be some merit to Mr. Trump’s apparent belief that forcing his fingers inside Ms. Carroll’s vagina sounds more favorable than saying he ‘raped’ her, Defendants are ‘under no obligation to include additional information that would portray the Plaintiff in a more favorable light,’” the lawyers said.

    Read the motion to dismiss here.

    The post ‘Substantially true’: ABC lawyers say Trump defamation suit against George Stephanopoulos over ‘found liable for rape’ segment ‘must be dismissed,’ cite WaPo article first appeared on Law & Crime.