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“Michael Cohen’s Hopes Dashed! Federal Court Rules Against His Lawsuit Against President Trump

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently denied President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s bid to revive a defamation lawsuit he filed against the president over two years ago. The lawsuit was originally filed in January 2018, shortly after the publication of the Steele dossier, which contained allegations against Trump relating to incidents with Russian affiliations. In response, Trump denied he had ever spoken with Russians during 2016, calling the claims “fake news.” Cohen then argued that Trump’s statement was defamatory because, as it turns out, Trump had actually had these connections, and the statement imputed to him an untruthful and illegal conduct. Cohen’s lawyers argued that Trump was responsible for libel and sought damages due to his derogatory comments. However, the lawsuit had been dismissed by Manhattan District Court Judge Lorna Schofield in December 2019, citing the “absolute immunity doctrine” which grants presidents from civil litigation related to their official duties. According to Schofield, any claims of insulation applied to Trump’s remarks as they were made in the context of an official capacity as POTUS. Cohen and his counsel, Charles S. Harder and Dirk Anderasin, then brought the case before the federal appeals court. This time, they argued that the “absolute immunity doctrine” did not apply because Trump’s comments were made in his personal, rather than official, capacity as president. Unsurprisingly, the appeals court came to a different conclusion than the district court and concurred with Schofield’s analysis, finding that Trump had in fact made the comments as part of his official duties. It reasoned that because Trump had a professional responsibility to defend himself against political adversaries and to make his position clear to the public on pending controversies and issues, his statements had to be considered in an official capacity. While Cohen and Harder expressed disappointment over the ruling, the decision of the Second Circuit provides strong support for the notion that a president’s statements, even those made outside of his capacity as POTUS, are made in an official capacity — and therefore, potentially immune from litigation — when the statements are related to his duty to defend himself, as Cohen’s case unfortunately highlights.