President Joe Biden
's Justice Department
has made the surprising decision to continue the previous administration's efforts to defend Donald Trump
against a defamation
suit brought by a woman he accused of lying about being raped by him, despite his criticism of the agency's involvement in the case as a presidential candidate.
In their latest brief, Justice Department lawyers argued that Trump was just another federal employee when he accused columnist E. Jean Carroll
of lying, prompting Carroll to file a defamation lawsuit
against the then-president. Carroll wrote in a June 2019 New York Magazine article and reiterated in her lawsuit that Trump raped her in a Manhattan
“When members of the White House media
asked then-President Trump to respond to Ms. Carroll’s serious allegations of wrongdoing, their questions were posed to him in his capacity as President,” the Justice Department wrote. “Elected public officials can — and frequently must — address allegations of personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office.”
The government's lawyers contended that the law continues to grant Trump immunity and government-funded legal assistance because nothing in the statutes "suggests that they exempt from their coverage the President of the United States
In October, a federal judge in Manhattan denied Trump's request that the U.S. government replace him as the defendant in the defamation suit. The then-president's Justice Department, led by Attorney General William Barr
, argued that the government should step in as the defendant because Trump was forced to respond to Carroll's lawsuit in order to prove he was physically and mentally fit for the job of president.
In his decision, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York said that a law protecting federal employees from being sued individually for things they do within the scope of their employment did not apply to a president, but even if it did, Trump's public denials of Carroll's rape allegation would have fallen outside the scope of his employment, according to Kaplan.
On Jan. 15, Barr and Trump's personal attorneys filed an appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where the case is still pending.
“It is horrific that Donald Trump raped E. Jean Carroll many years ago in a New York City
department store, but it is truly shocking that the current Department of Justice
would allow Donald Trump to get away with lying about it, thereby depriving our client of her day in court,” Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan said in a statement to BuzzFeed News
“The DOJ’s position is not only legally incorrect; it is morally incorrect because it would give federal officials free rein to cover up private sexual misconduct
by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward,” she added. “Calling a woman you sexually assaulted a ‘liar,’ a ‘slut,’ or ‘not my type,’ as Donald Trump did here, is not an official act of an American president.”
Carroll is one of about a dozen women
who have accused Trump of sexual harassment
, assault, or misconduct.
The effort by Barr's Justice Department was widely criticized as a waste of government resources on Trump's behalf. During a town hall event in October, Biden mentioned Carroll's case as an example of Trump attempting to use the Justice Department as his "own law firm."