Attorney General

Taking same stance as former AG Barr, Biden's DOJ seeks to defend Trump in defamation suit by rape accuser

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The Department of Justice building in Washington, D.C. Photo from Shutterstock.

The U.S. Department of Justice under President Joe Biden is arguing that the United States should be substituted as the defendant in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump by a woman who claimed that he defamed her by denying her allegations of rape.

The argument does not differ from the position taken by former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, report Politico, the Washington Post and the New York Times.

According to Politico, the Biden DOJ brief filed Monday evening “is an illustration of how administrations of sharply different political outlooks often flock to the same legal positions in court, even if it means seeming to excuse or immunize alleged bad conduct by their predecessors.”

The government filed the brief in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York in a suit by author and advice columnist E. Jean Carroll.

The brief said Trump’s response to 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. Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll’s allegations.”

Instead, the brief said, the issue is whether Trump’s comments while president fell within the scope of his employment under federal laws that provide for the substitution of the United States as a defendant in tort lawsuits against federal employees.

“Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,” the DOJ’s brief said. “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.”

Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, had argued that her client would likely have no remedy if the government is substituted for Trump because the law does not allow defamation claims against federal officials acting in their official capacity.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York had refused to substitute the federal government as the defendant in an October decision.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesperson, told Politico and the New York Times that the White House was not consulted by the DOJ on the decision to file the brief or its contents.

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