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Justice Department intervenes in lawsuit brought by woman who accused Trump of raping her decades ago


WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Tuesday intervened in the defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says Donald Trump raped her years ago, moving the matter to federal court and signaling it wants to make the U.S. government - rather than Trump himself - the defendant in the case.

In filings in federal court in Manhattan, the Justice Department asserted that Trump was "acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States" when he denied during interviews in 2019 that he had raped journalist E. Jean Carroll more than two decades ago in a New York City department store. Carroll had sued Trump over that denial in November.

The maneuver removes the case - at least for now - from state court in New York, where a judge last month had rejected Trump's bid for a delay. It also means that Justice Department lawyers will be essentially aiding Trump's defense, and taxpayers could be on the hook for any potential damages, if the U.S. government is allowed to stand in for Trump. 

Justice Department lawyers said that because Trump was acting as president when he denied the allegations, a judge should "substitute the United States for President Trump as defendant."

In a statement, Roberta Kaplan, Carroll's lawyer, criticized the department's filing. She noted that last month a New York court had rejected Trump's argument that he was immune from a lawsuit and, consequently, that he was "soon going to be required to produce documents, provide a DNA sample, and sit for a deposition."

"Realizing that there was no valid basis to appeal that decision in the New York courts, on the very day that he would have been required to appeal, Trump instead enlisted the U.S. Department of Justice to replace his private lawyers and argue that when he lied about sexually assaulting our client, explaining that she 'wasn't his type,' he was acting in his official capacity as President of the United States," Kaplan said. "Even in today's world, that argument is shocking. 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."

Carroll said in a statement that the actions "demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying."

"But Trump underestimates me, and he also has underestimated the American people," Carroll said. 

A Justice Department spokeswoman said she was researching the matter. 

The department's filings were signed by Jeffrey Bossert Clark, the acting attorney general in charge of the Civil Division, as well as James Touhey Jr., director of the torts branch, and attorney Stephen Terrell. 

Citing the Federal Torts Claim Act, the department said Attorney General William Barr has the authority under federal law to move such a case to federal court if he certifies that a federal employee was acting within the scope of their job during an incident, though he had delegated that authority to Touhey. 

Touhey, the department said in a filing, "certified that the defendant employee, President Trump, was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose."

"Numerous courts have recognized that elected officials act within the scope of their office or employment when speaking with the press, including with respect to personal matters, and have therefore approved the substitution of the United States in defamation actions," the department argued. 

What will happen next is unclear - though the proceedings will almost surely stall Carroll's case. The department did not immediately raise any defenses of Trump; a federal judge will first have to consider whether to grant the request to make the U.S. government the defendant in the case. 

 

Published : September 09, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Matt Zapotosky · NATIONAL, POLITICS, COURTSLAW