On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice moved to take over President Trump’s defense against a defamation lawsuit brought by Columnist E. Jean Carroll.
Carroll accused Trump of raping her in Manhattan in the 1990s. She filed suit in New York state court last year after Trump denied having met her and accused her of lying. In her lawsuit, Carroll argues that the president defamed her after saying in an interview with The Hill that she “wasn’t his type.”
Thus far, the President has been represented by Marc Kasowitz, his personal lawyer. However, in a highly unusual move, lawyers at the DOJ made a 5 page filing, stating that Trump acted in official capacity as president when he spoke to reporters and therefore could have government lawyers for his defense. The filing asked New York state court to appoint the United States rather than Trump himself as the defendant; this would move the case away from state and into federal court. Legal experts have said that if successful, this would “effectively bring Carroll’s case to an end.”
Under the Federal Tort Claims act, federal employees have immunity from most defamation lawsuits; according to the New York Times, this immunity has “rarely, if ever” been used to protect a president, “especially for actions taken before he entered office.” Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas, questioned whether it is “really within within the scope of the law for government lawyers to defend someone accused of lying about a rape when he wasn’t even president yet.”
Roberta A. Kaplan, Carroll’s lawyer, made a statement on Tuesday decrying Trump’s actions, saying his actions “[show] even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out.” Carroll also condemned the maneuver in a series of tweets, writing in all caps, “TRUMP HURLS BILL BARR AT ME.”
Attorney General William Barr stated on Wednesday that involving the DOJ was routine, stating “This was a normal application of the law. . . It is done frequently.” Vladeck, speaking to CNN, stated that while the DOJ takes over tort claims against federal employees, there is no “frequent’’ history of doing so when the defendant is the President — or of waiting as long as DOJ did here to invoke the statute.