The Biden Justice Department is forging ahead with a controversial legal effort started under former President Donald Trump to intervene on Trump's behalf in a defamation lawsuit brought against him by a writer who says Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.
E. Jean Carroll leveled the accusations against Trump in her memoir published in 2019. Trump denied the allegations and accused Carroll of lying to sell books.
Carroll sued the then-president for defamation, but the suit has been caught up in litigation since the Trump-era Justice Department attempted to step in on Trump's behalf and make the government the defendant instead of the now-former president.
In its filing late Monday, the Justice Department — now under the Biden administration — sought to continue its defense of Trump while distancing itself from his alleged actions.
"Then-President Trump's response to Ms. Carroll's serious allegations of sexual assault included statements that questioned her credibility in terms that were crude and disrespectful," Brian Boynton, the acting head of the department's Civil Division, wrote in the brief. "But this case does not concern whether Mr. Trump's response was appropriate. Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll's allegations."
Instead, Boynton said, it boils down to a few legal questions, including whether a president is an "employee of the government" and whether Trump's denials were made within the scope of his office.
The department said the answer to both questions is yes, and therefore under federal law it said the government should be able to replace Trump as defendant in the case.
If the department were to succeed in its efforts, legal experts said the move would effectively end the case because the federal government can't be sued for defamation.
Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, slammed the Justice Department's decision to continue the Trump-era effort to intervene.
"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," she said on Twitter. "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."
The new filing is the latest development in the case since the Trump-era Justice Department first took the unusual step of seeking to intervene in the lawsuit last year.
The Justice Department and then-Attorney General William Barr came under fierce criticism for the move, which opponents argued was one in a series of actions the department took under Barr that benefited Trump or his friends.
A federal judge in October denied the Justice Department's initial attempt to step in on Trump's behalf. Trump appealed the decision to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, where the matter now stands.
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