Politics

Biden Justice Department Defends Trump In Lawsuit Over Ex-President Denying Rape

Merrick Garland’s DOJ is standing by the former Trump administration’s legal argument in a defamation lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll.

E. Jean Carroll at her home in New York state. | Getty Images
E. Jean Carroll at her home in New York state. | Getty Images

The Biden administration’s Justice Department filed a brief Monday seeking to defend former President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit. E. Jean Carroll filed the defamation lawsuit in November 2019 after alleging in her memoir that Trump raped her in the mid-1990s.

The former president has said Carroll made the accusation in order to sell her book and that she is not his “type,” while Carroll, a longtime advice columnist, argued that he hurt her career and reputation by casting her as a liar.

The DOJ, now led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, continued an argument initially made under the Trump administration in its new brief. The brief says that when the former president denied Carroll’s allegations, he was acting within the scope of his employment as a federal official. The DOJ says that’s true despite the “unnecessary and inappropriate” nature of Trump’s statements as they “pertained to the denial of wrongdoing,” according to the brief. The DOJ said in the brief that it — not Trump — should be the defendant in the case.

“Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives,” the brief, which was filed in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, says.

In October 2020, a judge denied the Justice Department’s effort to intervene in the lawsuit, saying Carroll’s defamation claims aren’t against the federal government because Trump “is not an ‘employee of the Government,’ as Congress defined the term.”

“While commenting on the operation of government is part of the regular business of the United States, commenting on sexual assault allegations unrelated to the operation of government is not,” U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in a 61-page opinion.

Carroll’s lawyer, Robbie Kaplan, on Monday called the DOJ’s argument legally and morally wrong “since it would give federal officials free license to cover up private sexual misconduct by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward.”

“We remain confident that Judge Kaplan’s decision will be affirmed by the Second Circuit,” she said. Monday’s DOJ brief says “the judgment of the district court should be reversed.” If the district court’s decision is reversed, and Trump is replaced as a defendant, then Carroll’s claim will likely be dismissed since the government can’t be sued for defamation, according to multiple outlets.

In September, while on the campaign trail, then-candidate Joe Biden said the DOJ had become dangerously politicized under the Trump administration. Former Attorney General William Barr, who resigned after Trump formally lost the Electoral College vote to Biden, was widely condemned for treating the Justice Dept. as Trump's personal legal team.

“It's become the Department of Trump, and that's wrong," Biden said, adding that should he become president, his Justice Department “will be totally independent of me.”

The White House was not consulted prior to the brief’s filing, according to multiple outlets.

“While we are not going to comment on this ongoing litigation, the American people know well that President Biden and his team have utterly different standards from their predecessors for what qualify as acceptable statements,” Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, told CNN.

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