Attorney General William Barr has defended the Justice Department’s (DOJ) request to take over President Donald Trump’s defense in a defamation lawsuit brought by rape accuser and columnist E. Jean Carroll.
In a court filing on Tuesday, the DOJ requested the court represent Trump in the lawsuit brought by Carroll, who alleged Trump had sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s in an upmarket New York City retail store.
The allegations were published in the New Yorker magazine on June 24, 2019, via anonymous sources who had reportedly heard the allegation from Carroll. Trump denied her allegation in the same month and accused her of using false claims as a way to promote her book.
Barr said in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday that it was “not particularly unusual” for the DOJ to invoke a federal law known as the Westfall Act for an elected official who had been sued civilly.
“This is done frequently. It’s been done for presidents. It’s been done for congressmen. The normal process was followed in this particular case you’re talking about,” Barr said.
Barr said that under the Westfall Act, when an employee of the executive branch or legislative branch is questioned by the press about his personal affairs and is sued for a state tort while carrying out his duties, then the United States can be substituted for the individual in the suit and the case can be moved to a federal court.
The attorney general said that since Trump was asked by the press about Carroll’s allegations, he would be able to invoke the federal law.
“So this was perfectly legitimate under not only the statute but case law,” he said.
Barr also said he was made aware of the request but he was not involved in signing off on the decision.
After Carroll’s allegations were made public, Trump made a statement where he claimed he had “never met this person in my life” and that she was “trying to sell a new book—that should indicate her motivation.”
“Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda … It’s just as bad for people to believe it, particularly when there is zero evidence,” he added.
Carroll, 76, subsequently filed a defamation suit in November 2019, seeking a retraction of Trump’s statements and damages. Carroll said that Trump’s comments harmed her character and career.
The defamation suit was “based on a written statement issued to the press and two statements,” the DOJ noted in its motion.
Carroll’s lawyer, Robbie Kaplan, said in a statement on Tuesday that the department’s argument is “shocking,” adding that, “it offends me as a lawyer and offends me even more as a citizen.”
In a statement to Axios, the White House said that the department’s action “adheres to the plain language and intent of the Statute which the courts have confirmed applies when elected officials, such as members of Congress, respond to press inquiries including with respect to personal matters.”
Mimi Nguyen contributed to this report