The Biden Justice Department finds itself in the unlikely, and probably uncomfortable, position of having to defend former President Donald Trump in court.
The case dates back to 2019 when writer E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation after the then-president denied her allegation that he’d raped her in a department store in the 1990s, stating she was “totally lying.”
The DOJ’s main argument in a brief filed Monday with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is that Trump was within his scope of employment when he addressed Carroll’s allegations, and therefore he is protected by federal law from being sued as an individual.
“When members of the White House media asked then-President Trump to respond to Ms Carroll’s serious allegations of wrongdoing, their questions were posed to him in his capacity as President,” Brian Boynton, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, wrote on page 16 of the 24-page document.
“Likewise, when Mr. Trump responded to those questions with denials of wrongdoing made through the White House press office or in statements to reporters in the Oval Office and on the White House lawn, he acted within the scope of his office.”
The brief noted that elected officials are forced to defend themselves against allegations of wrongdoing because the issues raised often touch on their suitability to continue to hold office.
“Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives,” Boynton wrote.
Earlier in the brief, Boynton made the point in no uncertain terms.
“Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,” he wrote. “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 statements were prompted by press inquiries about the official’s private life.”
The brief was appealing an October ruling by a judge in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that rejected Trump’s argument that because he was acting in his capacity as president when he made the comments about Carroll, Carroll’s suit should be against the United States, not Trump personally.
The Justice Department filed its appeal of that decision while Trump was still in office. The brief filed Monday was the first in the case during the Biden administration, Politico reported.
The DOJ’s brief made clear from its first statement that its defense of Trump is strictly tied to his ability to defend himself from allegations of wronging without opening himself up to defamation lawsuits.
“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,” the brief opens. “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.”
Still, the DOJ’s decision to continue with the strategy used under the Trump White House could spell disaster for the Carroll case. Instead of fighting the Trump legal team, her attorneys are facing the resources of the Justice Department.
In a statement, Carroll attacked the DOJ’s argument.
“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!” the statement said, according to Politico.
Carroll wrote about the alleged rape incident in her book “What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal,” released in July 2019, and she spoke about it in media appearances leading to the release date.
Trump denied her charge, saying he had never met the writer. He further accused her of making up her account in order to promote her book.
“I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?” Trump said.
“Totally lying. I don’t know anything about her,” he added. “I know nothing about this woman. I know nothing about her. She is — it’s just a terrible thing that people can make statements like that.”
In a bizarre CNN interview in June 2019, Carroll referred to rape as “sexy.”
“I think most people think of rape as being sexy. They think of the fantasies,” Carroll told a stunned-looking Anderson Cooper.
Cooper then cut to commercial.
This is WHAT happens when you don’t vet a guest or their story properly ⬇️
E. Jean Carroll : “I think most people think of rape as being sexy.”
Anderson Cooper: “We’re uhh go’in take uhh quick break” — We’ll talk more on the other side.
— Stephanie Hamill (@STEPHMHAMILL) June 25, 2019
The DOJ is doing the right thing in defending Trump, but it is also the politically expedient thing. And considering the nature of the presidency and the allegations, the position was virtually forced upon it.
In protecting Trump, they’re also potentially protecting their own man.
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