The extraordinary move has been highly criticized by taxpayers and experts alike, but Attorney General William Barr still stands by it.
The United States Department of Justice on Tuesday asked to take over the defense for President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by E Jean Carroll, who accused him of sexual assault last year. The request is especially extraordinary as the incident in question took place before Trump assumed his position in the White House. Under typical circumstances, the President would be expected to fight his defense by hiring private attorneys. However, the Justice Department has argued that it must take over as Trump's comments spurring the defamation lawsuit were made while he was in office, CNN reports.
To be clear: Donald Trump wants the U.S. taxpayer to pay for his legal defense in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll, a woman who has accused him of sexual assault. This is *beyond* corrupt. https://t.co/XgJtP49uKR— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) September 9, 2020
The move means citizens' tax money will be used to fight Trump's lawsuit, a reality that not many taxpayers are satisfied with. It also comes at a time when the Justice Department has received immense backlash for acting in the President's personal interests rather than in the interest of the American people. The department's court filing stated, "President Trump was acting within the scope of his office as President of the United States at the time of the incidents out of which the Plaintiff's defamation claim arose. Indeed, when providing the challenged statements, the President was speaking to or responding to inquiries from the press, much as the elected officials in the cases cited above were speaking to the press or making other public statements at the time of their challenged actions. The Westfall Act accordingly requires the substitution of the United States as [a] defendant in this action."
“This is saving the President thousands, if not millions, of dollars in legal fees. It’s part of the grift that is the Trump presidency,” @JeffreyToobin says about the DOJ asking to defend Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit.https://t.co/40qqjxdesJ pic.twitter.com/d2IfYAzWk7— New Day (@NewDay) September 9, 2020
Roberta Kaplan, Carroll's attorney, claimed that the argument from the Department of Justice was "shocking" even in today's world, referring to Trump's America. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig was in agreement with the attorney's stance, calling the move "a wild stretch by DOJ," especially at a time when the department and Attorney General William Barr are already under severe criticism for actions that may have benefitted Trump's political standing. "I can't remotely conceive how DOJ can argue with a straight face that it is somehow within the official duties of the President to deny a claim that he committed sexual assault years before he took office," Honig affirmed. "This is very much consistent with Barr's well-established pattern of distorting fact and law to protect Trump and his allies: the Mueller report, Ukraine, Stone, Flynn, [the] firing of the SDNY US Attorney and, more recently, baseless claims about widespread mail-in ballot fraud."
Breaking: Attorney General William Barr says the law is clear that the Justice Department can intervene in E. Jean Carroll defamation case against President Trump pic.twitter.com/QjBRDYaP8a— Reuters Legal (@ReutersLegal) September 9, 2020
Carroll, who worked for Elle Magazine as an advice columnist for several years, filed a lawsuit last fall alleging that President Trump had in the 1990s sexually assaulted her in a dressing room at the luxury Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman where she was employed at the time. Of course, Trump denied the allegation. He said it was "totally false" and added that he "never met this person in my life." Now, the change of lawyers could result in the case being delayed. Alternatively, it may not even go to trial at all because the federal government cannot, according to CNN legal analyst and University of Texas law school professor Steve Vladeck, be sued for defamation. In a statement, Carroll shared, "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."