The Biden administration’s Justice Department filed court documents on Monday that seek to defend former President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a writer who accused him of raping her at a New York City department store in the mid-1990s.
In the filing with the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Biden’s Justice Department insisted that it was not endorsing Trump’s conduct toward the writer, E. Jean Carroll, even as it argued that a law governing suits against federal officials justified the government’s move to take over the former president’s defense in the case.
In September, Trump’s Justice Department filed documents seeking to represent Trump against Carroll’s claim in federal court.
Trump has denied Carroll’s claim of sexual assault at a department store, saying “she’s not my type” and it “never happened.”
Carroll filed a defamation suit in 2019. In October, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to have the Justice Department represent him.
“Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,” Monday’s DOJ brief states. “Courts have thus consistently and repeatedly held that allegedly defamatory statements made in that context are within the scope of elected officials’ employment — including when the statements were prompted by press inquiries about the official’s private life.”
The Justice Department lawyers wrote that Trump was “crude and disrespectful” in questioning Carroll’s credibility and that comments attacking her appearance, impugning her motives and implying that she had made false accusations “were without question unnecessary and inappropriate.” But, they said, they “all pertained to the denial of wrongdoing.”
Carroll responded in a statement: “As women across the country are standing up and holding men accountable for assault — the DOJ is trying to stop me from having that same right. I am angry! I am offended! I and my attorneys Robbie Kaplan and Joshua Matz are confident that Judge Kaplan’s decision will be affirmed by the Second Circuit.”
Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan said in a statement: “The DOJ’s position is not only legally wrong, it is morally wrong since it would give federal officials free license to cover up private sexual misconduct by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward. Calling a woman you sexually assaulted a ‘liar,’ a ‘slut,’ or ‘not my type,’ as Donald Trump did here, is not the official act of an American president.”
Trump’s legal team also responded to the Justice Department’s move, saying that the suit “must be dismissed in a straightforward application of Congress’s decision not to waive sovereign immunity for defamation.”
“This is not a case where a president, without prompting, randomly targeted a private citizen. Rather, Carroll, a public figure, accused Trump of terrible misconduct 20 years earlier in a book and magazine article for which she sought maximum publicity,” they added in court documents. “He denied her accusations in precisely the manner she expected. A short time later, she sued him for defamation.”