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Former President Trump sues ABC News over errant rape comment

"This Week" anchor George Stephanopolous repeatedly said the ex-president was found legally liable of rape during a segment on March 10.

"This Week" anchor George Stephanopolous repeatedly said the ex-president was found legally liable of rape during a segment on March 10.

Former President Donald Trump makes an appearance in a New York state courtroom to be arraigned on felony criminal charges on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump makes an appearance in a New York state courtroom to be arraigned on felony criminal charges on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Photo by Andrew Kelly, the Associated Press/Pool image)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump has filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC News after one of its journalists erroneously said he was found legally liable for rape.

The comments were made by journalist George Stephanopolous during the March 10th episode of “This Week,” during which he repeatedly asked South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace to explain why she would support Trump despite a recently-decided civil trial that found him liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll.

During the interview, Stephanopolous repeatedly said a civil jury in New York state had found former President Trump “liable for rape,” though the actual case decided whether Trump was liable for sexual assault. A state judge overseeing the case later affirmed the outcome of the case did not hold Trump liable for rape because of New York’s narrow legal definition of the term.

For more than seven minutes, Stephanopolous and Mace sparred over her support for Trump in light of the case, with Mace repeatedly drawing a distinction between a civil case and a criminal case. To that end, Mace said Trump had not been found criminally liable for rape, and said she found Stephanopolous’ line of questioning to be offensive, noting her own situations as a survivor of rape.

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“You know how hard it was to tell my story five years ago when they were doing a fetal heartbeat bill, and there was no exception for rape or incest in there,” Mace affirmed. “I had to tell my story because no other woman was coming forward for us. No rape victims were represented, and you’re trying to shame me this morning. And I find it offensive, and this is why women won’t come forward.”

Stephanopolous repeatedly said he was not trying to shame Mace for her situation, but wanted to understand why she would support Trump given his legal situation. Mace declined to answer the question.

Later, Mace said her exit from the set of “This Week” was awkward, with Stephanopolous angered by what took place.

“Giving me the side-eye, being very ugly — his whole demeanor was nasty,” Mace said in an interview on cable network NewsNation last week.

On Monday, attorneys representing Trump filed a civil defamation case on his behalf, arguing in a complaint that Stephanopolous’ assertion that the former president was found legally liable of rape was factually incorrect.

ABC News has not offered a public comment on the matter. The network, owned by the Walt Disney Company, did not re-air the March 10th episode of “This Week” on their streaming channel, ABC News Live, which is common on most Sundays and early Monday mornings. Stephanopolous did not appear on last Sunday’s broadcast of the program either, with ABC’s global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz taking his place.

It is not the first time Trump has gone to battle against ABC News: In 2017, the network suspended correspondent Brian Ross over an errant report that claimed former national security advisor Michael Flynn would affirm then-candidate Trump had directed him to contact his counterparts within the Russian government. The contact actually occurred after Trump was president-elect, the network clarified, and Ross was suspended for four weeks without pay. (The following summer, Ross left ABC News.)

Trump has also sparred with other news outlets that publish reports he disagrees with, filing lawsuits against CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times over the past few years. None of those lawsuits have been successful for him, and in the case of the New York Times, he was ordered to pay the newspaper’s attorneys around $400,000 in legal fees.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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