Principle above party?
The Justice Department's Civil Division told a federal appellate court Monday night that it will continue to try and defend former President Donald Trump in a libel suit brought by E. Jean Carroll, a journalist who said Trump raped her in a department store dressing room I the 1990s. After Carroll accused Trump of rape, Trump called her a liar and said, untruthfully, that he had never even met her. Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019, and Attorney General William Barr stepped in last September, controversially attempting to have the Justice Department replace Trump in the lawsuit, effectively killing the litigation.
A federal judge in Manhattan, Lewis Kaplan, rejected Barr's move, writing that the law he tried to use doesn't apply because Trump wasn't a government "employee" under the statute and wasn't acting "within the scope of his employment" when he allegedly defamed Carroll. "To conclude otherwise would require the Court to adopt a view that virtually everything the president does is within the public interest by virtue of his office," Kaplan wrote.
The Trump Justice Department appealed that ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Monday's filing "indicates that the Biden administration has decided to keep pushing to be allowed to treat a sitting president's comments — albeit in response to a personal issue — as an official function of the office for the purposes of litigation that may arise from those comments," The Washington Post reports.
Brian Boynton, the acting head of the DOJ's Civil Division, underscored in Monday's filing that the Justice Department isn't defending Trump's actions, noting that the former president "attacked" Carroll's looks, "impugned her motives, and implied that she had made false accusations against others." But while those comments "were without question unnecessary and inappropriate," Boynton argued, Trump made them "in his capacity as president."
Roberta Kaplan, Carroll's lead lawyer, said the DOJ's "truly shocking" filing "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."
The White House said it "was not consulted by DOJ on the decision to file this brief or its contents," adding that President Biden and his team clearly "have utterly different standards from their predecessors for what qualifies as acceptable statements."