Is Trump still a govt employee? Joe Biden DOJ to defend ex-prez in Jean Carroll rape defamation case
DoJ files brief taking over the defense of case says it does not endorse Trump's behavior but merely continuing stance of Bill Barr's DoJ
In a rather unusual twist, the Department of Justice (DoJ) has announced it will continue the previous administration's defense of former President Trump in a rape defamation case. The acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, Brian Boynton, filed a brief attesting to that on Monday, June 7 with the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals. The DoJ will defend Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by writer Jean Carroll.
Carroll is far from the first to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct, but she is the first to openly challenge him in court. In past, Trump has preferred to pay money to silence accusers as he did in the case of Stormy Daniels. In 2018, the $130,000 came to light and Michael Cohen even admitted to the cover-up. In 2018, Daniels even published a memoir about her affair, titled 'Full Disclosure'.
Carroll though has opted to publicly name and shame Trump, leading to a lawsuit that's at the heart of the matter. In the 2020 suit, Carroll alleges Trump raped her at a department store in the mid-'90s. While Trump dismissed the allegations, saying "she's not my type", he has also been working on a defense with the DoJ when Bill Barr was Attorney General. Now, it seems like the DoJ will continue to defend Trump, even though he is no longer President.
DoJ says Trump acted as POTUS, therefore eligible for help
At the center is the question whether Trump is still a federal employee. Since he was President when the suit was filed, Barr said Trump could be defended by the DoJ. While he was widely criticized for deploying government resources to fight a personal case, Barr pursued the defense anyway. Now under Merrick Garland, it appears that the present administration will continue that course.
"The case addresses whether the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and the Westfall Act apply to the President and the scope of their application—questions that implicate the institutional interests of the federal government," the filing says. It argues, "those statutes apply broadly to all persons working for or on behalf of the United States, even when unsalaried." Basically, the DoJ argues Trump is liable for federal protection because he was a former federal employee.
"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," Boynton wrote in the filing. He did add, however, that the defense was not an endorsement of Trump's behavior. "The Department of Justice is not endorsing the allegedly tortious conduct or representing that it actually furthered the interests of the United States," he wrote.
It is unclear if Garland himself was responsible for this decision, or if it came from someone else at the Justice Department, but we do know that the instruction did not come from the White House. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates told POLITICO, "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."
Carroll hits back, slams decision
Responding to the filing, Carroll has slammed the Biden administration for its decision to defend Trump. "It is truly shocking that the current Department of Justice would allow Donald Trump to get away with lying about it, thereby depriving our client of her day in court," Carroll's lawyer Roberta Kaplan said. "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 added.
Carroll too has issued a statement. "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. In October 2020, a district court judge ruled that the DoJ couldn't defend Trump, but that was overturned. But before further action could be taken, Trump was voted out, leaving him open to being sued without a federal defense.
Now, the Garland DoJ has made it clear that they will continue the process started by their predecessors, which Barr pitched as a swift way to end the lawsuit.