House Judiciary Democrats are splitting with the Biden Administration’s Justice Department over the decision to defend former President Donald Trump in a defamation suit against E. Jean Carroll.
The lawmakers, including Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerold Nadler, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and other panel members, wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland Wednesday urging him to abandon the department’s ‘push to represent former President Trump, at taxpayer expense’ – calling it ‘profoundly misguided.’
‘President Trump’s disgusting comments about Ms. Carroll had nothing to do with his official responsibilities as President, and the whole world knows it. Survivors of sexual assault, among other victims, deserve better,’ they wrote.
They call out what they consider ‘deeply problematic’ circumstances of the case – even though DOJ a brief filed Monday took pains not to condone Trump’s comments in the case, which relate to Carroll’s suit claiming he defamed her when he said while in office she was ‘totally lying’ in her claim that he raped her inside a Manhattan department store in 1987.
A group of House Democrats wrote AG Merrick Garland to blast Donald Trump’s ‘disgusting’ comments, and faulted DOJ for its reasoning in a decision to keep defending him in a defamation suit
The lawmakers – some of whom were involved in House efforts to impeach Trump – took issue with DOJ’s reasoning, that Trump was engaging in official duties when he trashed Carroll while at the White House – including saying she was not his ‘type.’
Are we to understand that federal employees are free to engage in private tortious conduct for personal gain, so long as they maintain federal employment and can assert some pretextual benefit to the publicfor their actions?
A group of House Judiciary Committee Democrats signed the letter
The Judiciary members called Trump’s comments ‘disgusting’
The signers warned that DOJ’s position could encourage misconduct by other federal officials
Biden’s Justice Department is continuing to defend Trump in the defamation lawsuit brought by rape accuser, saying he can’t be held liable for his ‘crude and disrespectful’ comments because he was acting within his scope as president at the time.
Justice Department lawyers argued in a brief Monday that the US government should be allowed to replace Trump as the defendant, paving the way for him to be given immunity over his comments and the suit against him to be dropped.
Carroll, a former Elle magazine columnist, came forward at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2019 to accuse the then-president of raping her back in 1996.
Trump denied the allegations claiming she was ‘totally lying’ to sell her new book, was ‘not my type’ and that he had ‘never met’ her.
His comments prompted Carroll to sue him for defamation later that year.
Joe Biden’s Justice Department is continuing to defend Donald Trump in the defamation lawsuit brought by rape accuser E. Jean Carroll. Pictured Trump at the North Carolina Republican Convention Saturday
The Biden administration made the unexpected move Monday to throw its support behind a legal argument put forward by the Trump administration defending the Republican.
DOJ lawyers told the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that responding to allegations of misconduct falls within the official job role of a president.
Under this argument, the DOJ said, Trump was acting ‘within the scope of employment’ as president of the United States when he denied sexually assaulting Carroll more than two decades before he took office.
‘Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,’ they wrote.
‘Courts have thus consistently and repeatedly held that allegedly defamatory statements made in that context are within the scope of elected officials’ employment – including when the statements were prompted by press inquiries about the official’s private life.’
Rep. Eric Swalwell tweeted out the letter
This means the DOJ, as the federal government – as his employer at the time – should serve as defendant rather than Trump personally, the DOJ argued.
If the defendant is shifted from Trump to the DOJ this would likely lead to the lawsuit being dismissed, as the government cannot be sued for defamation.
It would also push the financial burden of defending the former president onto the American taxpayer.
‘Elected public officials can – and often must – address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,’ the lawyers wrote.
‘Such wrongdoing can include not only the serious charges of criminal behavior leveled here, but a range of activities including fraud and malfeasance.
‘Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives.’
Carroll (pictured), a former Elle magazine columnist, came forward at the height of the #MeToo movement in 2019 to accuse the then-president of raping her back in 1996
The allegations first surfaced in June 2019 in an excerpt of her memoir ‘What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal’, published in New York magazine (above)
The DOJ said that Trump’s comments about his accuser had been ‘crude and disrespectful’ but said this does not change the legal argument.
The Justice Department is also not defending Trump over the alleged rape or weighing in on whether or not the alleged assault took place.
‘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,’ the lawyers said.
‘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.’
Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan said it was ‘truly shocking’ that the current DOJ would let Trump ‘get away with lying’ about the alleged rape ‘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,’ she said.
‘Calling a woman you sexually assaulted a ‘liar,’ a ‘slut,’ or ‘not my type,’ as Donald Trump did here, is not the official act of an American president.’
Biden speaking at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Delaware Friday. Biden’s DOJ said Monday Trump can’t be held liable for his ‘crude and disrespectful’ comments because he was acting within his scope as president at the time
Carroll also released a statement slamming the DOJ.
‘As women across the country are standing up and holding men accountable for assault – the DOJ is trying to stop me from having that same right. I am angry! I am offended!’ she said.
The Biden administration’s stance carries on a legal argument started under the former administration’s DOJ, which was headed up by Trump ally Bill Barr.
In October, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan rejected this argument.
Barr’s DOJ and Trump’s own legal team appealed that decision to the Second Circuit Court, claiming Trump is shielded from the suit as he was a government employee at the time of his comments.
Biden’s DOJ’s decision marks a major turnaround from comments made by the current president before taking office.
During one of the presidential debates, Biden hit out at Trump for bringing in the DOJ to defend him in the suit.
He said his Republican opponent was treating the DOJ as his ‘own law firm’.
‘What’s that all about?’ he sarcastically asked.
The photo above shows Trump and first wife Ivana (left and right) with Carroll and her then-husband John Johnson (center) in 1987. Trump accused Carroll of ‘totally lying’ about him raping her and said he had ‘never met’ her
However, the White House said it was not consulted by the DOJ before it filed its argument.
‘The White House was not consulted by DOJ on the decision to file this brief or its contents. 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 deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement to CNN.
The final decision on the matter will be made by appeal judges of the Second Circuit.
Carroll filed the suit against Trump in 2019, claiming he defamed her when he said she was lying about the alleged rape when asked about the accusations by White House reporters.
He also claimed he had ‘never met’ the former columnist.
Carroll released a photo showing Trump, his then-wife Ivana, Carroll and her then-husband John Johnson together at an NBC party in 1987.
Carroll claimed Trump raped her in a dressing room in the upscale Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman.
She said she randomly bumped into Trump in the store, who recognized her as the host of a TV talk show at the time.
Carroll said they chatted and he asked her to help pick out a gift for an unidentified woman.
The dress Carroll said she was wearing on the day of the alleged attack. Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019
Carroll arriving at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in October in New York. Her lawyer said it was ‘truly shocking’ that the current DOJ would let Trump ‘get away with lying’ about the alleged rape
They eventually ended up in the lingerie department where he asked her to try on a body suit, she said.
At this point, Trump allegedly closed the door to a dressing room, pinned her against a wall, unzipped his pants and sexually assaulted her.
The allegations first surfaced in June 2019 in an excerpt of her memoir ‘What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal’, published in New York magazine.
In the article, Carroll posed for photos in 2019 in the same black Donna Karan dress she said she was wearing on the day of the alleged attack.
Carroll said she told two friends about the incident at the time but did not report it to police, fearing retribution from the wealthy and well-connected businessman.
In January 2020, tests found the DNA of an unidentified male on the shoulder and sleeves of the dress.
Trump faces a similar defamation lawsuit from Summer Zervos (pictured), a former contestant on his reality television show The Apprentice
Carroll’s legal team have been fighting for Trump to hand over a sample of DNA.
No criminal charges have been brought against Trump.
Carroll told MSNBC in 2019 that she was not planning to bring charges against her alleged abuser saying she felt it would be ‘disrespectful’ to women ‘down on the border who are being raped around the clock down there without any protection.’
However the incident would also fall outside the statute of limitations.
In New York, the statute of limitations for rape in the 1990s was just five years.
This was abolished in 2006 but that does not apply to crimes committed prior to this change.
Carroll is among more than two dozen women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct that they say occurred in the years before he became president.
He is also in the middle of another defamation suit brought by a different accuser, Summer Zervos, a former Apprentice contestant who accused him of forcibly kissing and groping her at a California hotel in 2007. Trump denied the allegations.
Other accusers include a former model who claims Trump sexually assaulted her at the 1997 US Open tennis tournament; a former Miss Universe pageant contestant who said Trump groped her in 2006; and a reporter who alleges Trump forcibly kissed her without her consent in 2005 at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Trump has denied the allegations and called them politically motivated.
The former president is also facing a series of other legal challenges including a probe into the Trump Organization’s business practices.