Biden DOJ adopts Trump's liability stance in E. Jean Carroll defamation suit
The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday evening argued in favor of defending former President Trump in a lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s, with federal lawyers adopting the notion that Trump could not be sued for defamation for statements he made while acting as president.
The New York Times reports that the DOJ, which weighed in on the case for the first time under President Biden , appeared to use Trump's position that remarks he made about Carroll were protected as part of his official duties as president, though it acknowledged his words were “crude and disrespectful." The position could lead to Carroll's lawsuit being dismissed, the Times reported.
Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump in 2019 for denying having ever met her after she claimed in a book that he raped her in the dressing room of a New York department store decades earlier. Trump denied the assault in an interview in the Oval Office that year and later issued a statement that claimed Carroll was lying.
The case had been making its way through New York state court until former Attorney General William Barr in September transferred the case to federal court, which allowed Trump's Justice Department to represent him in the case.
In November, before Trump left office, the first federal judge to hear the case ruled the DOJ could not defend Trump and blocked the department's attempts to intervene in the lawsuit, allowing the suit to move forward. The Justice Department later appealed that decision, with many observers expecting Biden's DOJ to drop the case, the Times noted.
In April, Carroll urged the DOJ under the Biden administration to not defend Trump in her lawsuit against him. Carroll's attorneys wrote that the argument Trump should be protected from the lawsuit because of his presidential status was "wrong."
But Justice Department lawyers argued in the Monday brief that Trump had been acting within the scope of his office when he denied from the White House that he raped Carroll.
“Elected public officials can — and often must — address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,” attorneys for the DOJ argued in the Monday filing. “Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives.”
According to the Times, the DOJ's decision to adopt Trump's stance on the lawsuit caught Carroll's attorneys by surprise.
“As women across the country are standing up and holding men accountable for assault,” Carroll told the Times on Monday, “the D.O.J. is trying to stop me from having that same right.”