DOJ Seeks to Defend Trump in Rape Accuser's Defamation Lawsuit

DOJ Seeks to Defend Trump in Rape Accuser's Defamation Lawsuit
E. Jean Carroll talks to reporters outside a courthouse in New York on March 4, 2020. (Seth Wenig, File/AP Photo)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday asked to take over President Donald Trump’s defense in a defamation lawsuit filed by rape accuser and columnist E. Jean Carroll.

"The United States respectfully requests that the court substitute the United States for President Trump as defendant," DOJ attorneys stated in a new court filing notifying a New York State court that it wants to replace Trump's private lawyers, and move the case into federal court.

“Because President Trump was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the plaintiff’s [E. Jean Carroll's] claim arose, the United States will file a motion to substitute itself for President Trump in this action for any claim for which the [Federal Tort Claims Act] provides the exclusive remedy,” the DOJ filing read.

"Numerous courts have recognized that elected officials act within the scope of their office or employment when speaking with the press, including with respect to personal matters, and have therefore approved the substitution of the United States in defamation actions," the attorneys wrote in the filing.

Carroll, 76, alleged that the president 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.

President Donald Trump speaks on the environment at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum in Jupiter, Fla. on Sept. 8, 2020. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
President Donald Trump speaks on the environment at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum in Jupiter, Fla. on Sept. 8, 2020. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

“Regarding the ‘story’ by E. Jean Carroll, claiming she once encountered me at Bergdorf Goodman 23 years ago. I’ve never met this person in my life. She is trying to sell a new book—that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section,” Trump said in a statement at the time.

"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.

Following the allegations, Carroll filed the 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.

A federal judge will be positioned to decide the outcome of the DOJ's requests.

Carroll’s lawyer, Robbie Kaplan, said in a statement on Tuesday that the department's argument is "shocking," adding, "It offends me as a lawyer and offends me even more as a citizen."

"Almost exactly one month ago today, a New York state court rejected Donald Trump's argument that he is immune from a private lawsuit concerning defamatory statements he made about a sexual assault he committed in the 1990s," Kaplan said in her statement.

"As a result of that decision, Trump was soon going to be required to produce documents, provide a DNA sample, and sit for a deposition," she went on.

"Realizing that there was no valid basis to appeal that decision in the New York courts, on the very day that he would have been required to appeal, Trump instead enlisted the [DOJ] to replace his private lawyers and argue that when he lied about sexually assaulting our client, explaining that she 'wasn't his type,' he was acting in his official capacity as president of the United States." Kaplan alleged.

Carroll is trying to obtain a DNA sample from Trump to see whether it matches as-yet-unidentified male genetic material found on a dress that she says she was wearing during the alleged attack and didn't don again until a photo shoot last year.

Carroll on Twitter late Wednesday wrote: "I and my attorney Robbie Kaplan, are ready! So is every woman who has ever been silenced! ... Bring it!"
In an emailed statement to Axios, she wrote that Trump "knows that I told the truth."

"Today's actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying," she said.

The White House told Axios in a statement that Carroll "was trying to sell a book" when she sued Trump for defamation "for denying her baseless claims." The White House also maintained that the DOJ's action is consistent with prior precedent under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.