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Trump rape accuser says slander isn’t a presidential duty

Erik Larson
Bloomberg

The New York advice columnist who claims President Donald Trump raped her in a department store dressing room two decades ago asked a judge to deny a Justice Department request to substitute the U.S. government as the defendant in her defamation lawsuit.

E. Jean Carroll, who went public with her claims last year and sued Trump after he called her a liar, said in a court filing Monday that the U.S. effort misapplies a federal law intended to protect government workers from lawsuits related to their jobs. The law doesn’t apply because the allegedly defamatory statements weren’t part of Trump’s official duties, she said.

E. Jean Carroll , left, and President Donald Trump.

“There is not a single person in the United States – not the President and not anyone else – whose job description includes slandering women who they sexually assaulted,” Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said in the filing in Manhattan.

The Justice Department moved Carroll’s case from state court to federal court on Sept. 8 and took over Trump’s defense after a judge ruled that the president couldn’t put off the suit any longer. Carroll called the move a delay tactic to avoid renewed demands for Trump to be deposed and submit to a DNA test during the final weeks before the presidential election.

The department “intervened to shield Trump from legal accountability only after his state court stall tactics, procedural gambits, and assertions of immunity were all rejected,” Carroll said in the filing.

The president has denied Carroll’s allegations. In June 2019, after Carroll publicly aired her claims, he told reporters: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened.”

“It is inconceivable that Trump aimed to do his job as President by implying that Carroll is too unattractive for him to sexually assault her,” according to the filing.

The Justice Department press office didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the filing.

Personal Reasons

In her filing, Kaplan balked at the argument that Trump’s statements fell within the scope of his duties, including claims that Carroll had falsely accused other men of rape and that she was lying about him “as part of a secret political conspiracy” and to sell books.

“Trump acted for decidedly personal reasons unrelated to furthering any interests of the United States” when he made the statements, according to the filing.

A Justice Department team led by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark invoked the Federal Tort Claims Act in its filing last month to argue that the president was acting officially when he called Carroll a liar, requiring the substitution of the U.S. as the defendant.

Attorney General William Barr stood behind the department’s move, calling a backlash against it a “little tempest” resulting from the “bizarre political environment in which we live.”

Carroll’s case appeared to be getting back on track in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a sitting president isn’t immune from state court actions – a ruling that cleared the way for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to demand Trump’s taxes and other financial documents.

The president argued that Carroll’s case should be treated differently because it’s not a criminal matter. New York State Supreme Court Justice Verna Saunders wasn’t persuaded and allowed the case to proceed.

The move from state to federal court leaves taxpayers on the hook for Trump’s defense in the case, but the U.S. isn’t at risk of paying damages. Instead, if the substitution sought by Justice Department is granted, the case will almost certainly be dismissed because the U.S. can’t be held responsible for intentional tort claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit civil rights defense organization, filed a so-called friend-of-the-court brief in the case Monday saying the U.S. was wrong to conclude that anything Trump said after his inauguration “automatically and inexorably” falls within the scope of his employment. Trump’s alleged statements were instead part of a pattern of remarks that started long before his election, the group said.

“The words Mr. Trump used in defaming Ms. Carroll were identical to ones he used in defaming eight other women in the nine months before he was inaugurated,” the group said. “Mr. Trump’s prior words are admissible to establish he had a longstanding habit’ of defaming women who had challenged his sexual abuse, a habit that predated his presidency.”

Trump has long denied the allegations made by other women, claiming they were seeking attention or trying to smear his name for political reasons.

The case is Carroll v. Trump, 20-cv-07311, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).