Politics

DOJ Intervenes To Defend Trump In Defamation Lawsuit Filed By E. Jean Carroll

The move would enable federal government lawyers, funded by taxpayer dollars, to take over the president’s defense in a case against a writer who has accused him of rape.

E. Jean Carroll speaks onstage during the How to Write Your Own Life panel at the 2019 Glamour Women Of The Year Summit at Alice Tully Hall on November 10, 2019 in New York City. | Getty Images
E. Jean Carroll speaks onstage during the How to Write Your Own Life panel at the 2019 Glamour Women Of The Year Summit at Alice Tully Hall on November 10, 2019 in New York City. | Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Justice moved to take over President Donald Trump’s defense in a defamation lawsuit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her in a department store in the mid-1990s. It is the latest example of the DOJ led by Attorney General Bill Barr intervening in the legal affairs of the president or his associates. 

The DOJ asked a court Tuesday to allow it to represent Trump in the case, according to documents shared by multiple outlets, including The New York Times, and move the suit from state to federal court. The request asks that the U.S. government be the defendant in the case instead of Trump, documents show, and it requires court approval.

That would effectively make the federal government, funded by taxpayer dollars, responsible for any damages awarded in the case, instead of Trump himself. 

Carroll first sued Trump for defamation in November, arguing that he hurt her career by casting her as a liar. In its request on Tuesday, the DOJ cited the Federal Tort Claims Act, arguing that Trump was acting in an official capacity as president last year when he denied knowing Carroll and said she was “not my type.” (The two had been photographed together in the 1980s.)

As The Washington Post reported, “The department said that Barr has the authority under federal law to move such a case to federal court if he certifies a federal employee was acting within the scope of their job during an incident.”

Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan called the legal argument “shocking.”

Kaplan said in a statement: “It offends me as a lawyer, and offends me even more as a citizen. Trump’s effort to wield the power of the U.S. government to evade responsibility for his private misconduct is without precedent, and shows even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out.”

Carroll tweeted multiple times on Tuesday about the development, adding that she and Kaplan “are ready! So is every woman who has ever been silenced!”

In a statement, Carroll said that the “actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying. But Trump underestimates me, and he also has underestimated the American people.”

Critics, including lawyers, have quickly lambasted the government’s highly unconventional move. Leah Litman, an assistant professor at University of Michigan Law School, tweeted that the argument implies “misogyny is the President's official duties/within the scope of his job.”
 

Carroll’s initial accusation against Trump appears in her 2019 book “What Do We Need Men For?” in which she described being raped by Trump in a Bergdorf Goodman fitting room in the mid-1990s. She shared the anecdote with two other people, both of whom have since corroborated Carroll’s account in interviews with outlets including The New York Times. A White House spokesperson has told New York magazine that the account is “completely false.” 

Carroll lost her job as an advice columnist at Elle magazine in February, and she blamed her firing on Trump’s attacks on her reputation.

At least 25 women have accused Trump of sexual assault or misconduct, according to Business Insider.