The Department of Justice intervened Tuesday in a lawsuit filed against President Donald Trump by journalist E. Jean Carroll, attempting to move the case from New York state to federal court and replace Trump’s legal team with the full force and resources—the public’s money—of the DOJ.
Carroll sued Trump for defamation last November after she accused him of sexually assaulting her in a New York City department store in 1995 or 1996, and Trump said she was lying and described her as “not my type.”
Now, a 294-page legal filing with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York claims that since Trump denied the allegations while he was president, the Department of Justice should be allowed to “substitute itself” for Trump, since the denial occurred “within the scope of his office or employment” —the act being the denial, not the alleged assault.
But as University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck pointed out, the government itself can’t be sued for defamation.
“Just to be clear, DOJ's argument that Trump was acting ‘within the scope of his employment’ when he defamed E. Jean Carroll is not an effort to take over defense of the suit; it's an effort to have the suit dismissed,” Vladeck tweeted.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.
Legal experts were astonished by the move. University of Alabama law professor Joyce Alene White Vance, a former Obama administration U.S. Attorney, said the argument that Trump was acting within his scope as president when he denied the rape allegation was a “ludicrous claim.”
“This is truly grotesque—they're saying that misogyny is the President's official duties/within the scope of his job,” University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman tweeted.
The DOJ’s sudden interest in the case comes after Manhattan judge Verna Saunders ruled last month that Carroll’s case could proceed without delay, citing a Supreme Court ruling in July rejecting Trump’s argument that he could block a subpoena of his financial records from Manhattan prosecutors.
Carroll and her attorney Robbie Kaplan slammed the DOJ’s move. “IT JUST PROVES TRUMP IS GUILTY!” Carroll tweeted, saying in another post that Trump is “hurl[ing]” Attorney General Bill Barr at her.
"Even in today's world, that argument is 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," Kaplan added.
Cover: AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File // AP Photo/Chris Carlson