The Justice Department is continuing to push its way into a defamation suit against former president Donald Trump brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, who claimed he raped her in the 1990s.
President Biden’s Justice Department filed a brief on Monday after a federal court ruled in October that the department cannot take Trump’s place as the defendant.
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“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. But this case does not concern whether Mr. Trump’s response was appropriate,” the filing reads. “Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll’s allegations. The case instead addresses whether the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the Westfall Act apply to the President and the scope of their application – questions that implicate the institutional interests of the federal government.”
“The district court’s resolution of those issues was erroneous, and the government respectfully urges the Court to reverse the decision of the district court,” the filing continued. “To that end, the Westfall Act creates a mechanism for substituting the United States as the sole defendant in instances where a claim within the scope of the FTCA is filed against federal employees.”
The White House distanced itself from the Justice Department’s decision.
“This is in active litigation, and so we refer you to the Department of Justice concerning its court filings. The White House was not consulted by DOJ on the decision to file this brief or its contents. And while we are not going to comment on this ongoing litigation, the American people know well that President Biden and his team have utterly different standards from their predecessors for what qualify as acceptable statements,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told Fox News.
Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, called the Justice Department’s brief “shocking” in a statement to Fox News.
“It is horrific that Donald Trump raped E. Jean Carroll in a New York City department store many years ago,” Kaplan said in a statement. “But it is truly shocking that the current Department of Justice would allow Donald Trump to get away with lying about it, thereby depriving our client of her day in court. 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.”
“We remain confident that Judge Kaplan’s decision will be affirmed by the Second Circuit,” she continued.
After Carroll’s 2019 accusation, Trump said that he never met Carroll and accused her of fabricating the allegations to sell her book or to “carry out a political agenda.”
“President Trump’s comment concerned media reports about an alleged sexual assault that took place more than 20 years before he took office. Neither the media reports nor the underlying allegations have any relationship to his official duties,” U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York wrote in an opinion in October.
The DOJ had argued that by denying Carroll’s allegations, Trump was making it easier for himself to govern due to the seriousness of the accusation. Kaplan said that the DOJ had waived that argument by waiting too long to make it, but even so, it was not convincing.
“While the government’s position is not entirely without merit, it goes much too far. Accepting it would mean that a president is free to defame anyone who criticizes his conduct or impugns his character – without adverse consequences to that president and no matter what injury he inflicts on the person defamed.,” Judge Kaplan wrote.
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Before even getting into the nature and context of the president’s statements, however, Kaplan ruled that the president does not qualify as an “employee” of a “federal agency” for the purposes of the statutes that would allow the government to take his place – the Federal Tort Claims Act and the Westfall Act.
Fox News’ inquiries to a Trump spokesperson and the Justice Department were not returned at the time of publication.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer, Marta Dhanis and David Spunt contributed to this report.