The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday moved to assume responsibility for defending President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says Trump raped her in the 1990s.
E. Jean Carroll filed suit in New York state court last year after Trump, answering reporters' questions, denied knowing her and accused her of lying. Carroll, a columnist for Elle magazine, wrote in a memoir that Trump had raped her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store in 1995 or 1996.
In an unusual five-page filing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the Justice Department argued that Trump's remarks were made in the performance of his official duties as president and that therefore government attorneys should assume Trump's defense from his private lawyers.
The filing asked the court to designate the United States, rather than Trump, as the defendant in Carroll's defamation suit and to move the case from state to federal court. Federal officials are generally immune from charges of defamation. If the DOJ's filing is successful, it would effectively bring Carroll's case to an end.
Carroll immediately condemned the legal maneuver, writing in a series of tweets, "TRUMP HURLS BILL BARR AT ME."
Addressing the president, Carroll said she is "ready! So is every woman who has ever been silenced!"
Robbie Kaplan, Carroll's attorney, said in a statement that the Justice Department's argument is "shocking."
"It offends me as a lawyer, and offends me even more as a citizen," Kaplan wrote.
Carroll's lawsuit had reached a critical stage in state court. Last month, a judge rejected the president's request to temporarily halt the proceedings. Carroll has asked the judge to order Trump to provide a DNA sample as part of pretrial discovery. Trump may also be required to sit for a deposition.