President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice submitted a brief in a federal appeals court this week seeking to defend former President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit, eight months after then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused Trump of using the DOJ as his own private “law firm” in the same case.
The case stems from comments Trump allegedly made about writer and New York City socialite E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman fitting room sometime in the mid-1990s in an essay for New York magazine. Trump forcefully denied Carroll’s allegations, telling reporters after Carroll’s story surfaced that he had never met the “Elle” columnist, that Carroll was “totally lying” in order to make a forthcoming book on her time in New York City more desirable to readers, and that “she’s not my type.”
The New York Times reports that the Biden DOJ submitted a brief acknowledging “that Mr. Trump’s remarks about Ms. Carroll were ‘crude and disrespectful,'” but defending the former president from a claim of defamation, taking up Trump’s claim that he is not subject to a suit on the issue because the remarks were made in the context of his official duties as president.
“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,” Biden’s DOJ said in its 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.”
“Rather, the lawyers wrote, because they believe Trump was an employee of the government and that he acted ‘within the scope of employment,'” CNN added, “the department, rather than Trump personally, should serve as defendant in the case.”
“Elected public officials can — and often must — address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,” the brief continued. “Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives.”
The DOJ intervened in the case, initially, at the behest of Attorney General William Barr who reportedly feared that, if Carroll’s case went to trial, the then-President could have been forced to sit for a deposition, and attorneys allowed to ask Trump questions under oath. “In a highly unusual move, Mr. Barr transferred the case to federal court and substituted the federal government for Mr. Trump as the defendant,” The New York Times noted.
“Federal law forbids government employees from being sued for defamation, meaning that if the move was successful, Ms. Carroll’s claim would be dismissed,” the outlet added.
Just after Barr removed the case to federal court, Biden used the decision as a way of suggesting that Trump was misusing federal resources, essentially protecting himself using the force of the federal government.
“At one of their debates, Mr. Biden accused Mr. Trump of treating the Justice Department like his “own law firm” in the suit, filed against him by the writer E. Jean Carroll. ‘What’s that all about?’ he sarcastically asked,” according to The New York Times.
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