Ex-President Donald Trump can be held liable for disparaging comments he made about a woman who accused him of rape, the US Department of Justice has said.
Its lawyers previously argued Mr Trump was legally immune as he was president when he made the remarks in 2019.
But on Tuesday government attorneys said they no longer had “sufficient basis” to conclude Mr Trump had acted within the scope of his duties.
The decision boosts E Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Mr Trump.
In May, Mr Trump was ordered to pay the former magazine columnist $5m (£3.9m) after being found liable for sexual abuse of her in 1996 at a New York department store.
Ms Carroll, 79, is currently seeking $10m from Mr Trump in a defamation lawsuit, which is due to go to trial in January.
The legal action cites his remarks as president about her in 2019 while responding to reporters’ questions.
The lawsuit has been updated to reflect further comments he made about her during a CNN town hall the day after the court’s verdict two months ago.
The justice department had previously taken the position that Mr Trump could be defended by government attorneys because he was serving in his capacity as president when he made the remarks.
But on Tuesday its lawyers said “there is no longer a sufficient basis to conclude that the former president was motivated by ‘more than an insignificant’ desire to serve the United States Government”.
In a letter filed with the judge presiding over the case, the justice department wrote that “Mr Trump was motivated by a ‘personal grievance’ stemming from events that occurred many years prior to Mr Trump’s presidency”.
The letter said new evidence had emerged since Mr Trump, 77, left office, referring to the Manhattan civil trial earlier this year.
The justice department said that though Mr Trump’s comments were made via official channels, the accusation that prompted the statements were in regards “to a purely personal incident: an alleged sexual assault that occurred decades prior to Mr Trump’s presidency”.
Ms Carroll’s lawyer welcomed the justice department’s reconsideration.
“We have always believed that Donald Trump made his defamatory statements about our client in June 2019 out of personal animus, ill will, and spite, and not as president of the United States,” said Roberta A Kaplan.