DOJ says Trump can't be sued for denying rape accusation
Attorneys for the Department of Justice (DOJ) argued Monday that President Trump cannot be sued for denying writer E. Jean Carroll’s rape accusation because he dismissed her claims in his official capacity at The White House. The lawyers also argued in a court filing obtained by The New York Times that Attorney General William Barr’s move to get the department involved in Carroll’s defamation lawsuit was appropriate.
DOJ said although Carroll’s accusation refers to an alleged incident in the 1990s, Trump’s denial was still an official action because he “addressed matters relating to his fitness for office as part of an official White House response to press inquiries.”
“Given the president’s position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant,” the lawyers wrote, according to the Times.
“The president’s statements fall within the scope of his employment for multiple reasons.”
Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her in a New York department store decades ago, filed a defamation lawsuit against the president in November after he responded to her allegations by saying he didn’t know her.
But the DOJ lawyers maintained that the president did not defame Carroll but solely denied her allegations, which they said can affect his ability to be president.
The lawyers said her accusation “sought to call into question the president’s fitness for office and a response was necessary for the president to effectively govern.”
“The president’s challenged statements were directly relevant to his role as president and leader of the executive branch,” the attorneys said.
The Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.
The DOJ’s argument comes a month after the department made the unusual decision of requesting to replace Trump’s private lawyers and move Carroll’s lawsuit to federal court, saying Trump acted in his capacity as president when denying the allegations.
If accepted by the judge, the move “would have the practical effect of dismissing” Carroll’s lawsuit because federal employees are protected from most defamation lawsuits, according to the Times.
The department’s request came after a New York judge ruled that Carroll’s case could continue in court after Trump’s lawyers repeatedly tried to delay the suit.
Barr defended the department’s decision to get involved in the lawsuit in a press conference last month, labeling the case law “crystal clear.”
“The little tempest that's going on is largely because of the bizarre political environment in which we live,” he said.
Carroll’s lawyers Roberta Kaplan and Joshua Matz countered the DOJ move in a court filing earlier this month and requested the judge reject it.
“There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” her lawyers wrote.
Carroll, a columnist for Elle magazine, wrote in a 2019 book that Trump raped her almost 30 years ago at the Bergdorf Goodman department store, prompting the president to deny the allegations. In her lawsuit, she argued his denial of the accusation and off knowing her damaged her reputation.
The writer has requested a DNA sample from Trump to see if it is linked to material on a dress she said she wore during the alleged assault.
More than a dozen women have accused the president of sexual misconduct before he was elected, which the president has denied.
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