Justice Department insists Donald Trump was doing his job in denying woman's rape claim
Justice Department lawyers argue they can and should defend President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who claims he sexually assaulted her decades ago, according to a new government filing Monday in advance of a court hearing on the issue set for this week.
The case arose out of a memoir by E Jean Carroll, a former Elle magazine columnist who accused Trump of raping her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan during the mid-1990s. He denied it, calling her a liar and "not my type," after which she sued him for defamation.
Last month, the Justice Department sought to intervene in the case, arguing that the Federal Torts Claims Act means the government, not the president personally, should be the defendant in the defamation case.
The FTCA gives elected officials wide latitude to avoid lawsuits over their public statements, and if the Justice Department wins that argument in court, Carroll's suit would likely be dismissed.
Carroll's lawyers have argued the Justice Department's legal argument is "inconceivable" because no American, not even the president has a "job description that "includes slandering women who they sexually assaulted."
The Justice Department's intervention was viewed by critics of the decision as an attempt by Attorney General William P Barr to protect the president. Barr has defended his department's involvement, saying the case law is clear and any outrage is a by-product of the country's "bizarre political environment."
In the 22-page filing on Monday, Justice Department lawyers said Carroll's argument misses the point, because past court cases have concluded that any public statements that reflect on the character and trustworthiness of a public official fall under the law.
Because Carroll's accusation "call into question the President's fitness for office," the Justice Department lawyers argue, "a response was necessary for the President to effectively govern."
Noting that one member of Congress said Carroll's allegation showed Trump was unfit to be president, the Justice Department filing argues that under such circumstances, Trump's response was within his official duties and "were directly relevant to his role as President and leader of the Executive Branch - and more generally is a necessary part of a Federal elected official's job."
US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan is scheduled to hold a hearing in the case Wednesday in federal court in New York.