June 15, 2021

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Biden Justice Department Seeks to Defend Trump in Suit Over Rape Denial – The New York Times

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For several months, the defamation suit wound its way through a state court in New York. But then last September, one month after a state judge issued a ruling that potentially opened the door to Mr. Trump sitting for a deposition before the election, the attorney general, William P. Barr, stepped into the case. In a highly unusual move, Mr. Barr transferred the case to federal court and substituted the federal government for Mr. Trump as the defendant.

Federal law forbids government employees from being sued for defamation, meaning that if the move was successful, Ms. Carroll’s claim would be dismissed.

Mr. Barr’s move raised the question of whether Mr. Trump had in fact made his comments about Ms. Carroll as a government employee — a position that Ms. Carroll’s lawyers roundly rejected. “There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” the lawyers said in a filing last year.

In October, the first federal judge to consider the case, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan, agreed with Ms. Carroll, blocking Mr. Barr’s move and deciding that the suit could continue against Mr. Trump in his private capacity. Mr. Trump’s comments concerned events that had occurred “several decades before he took office,” Judge Kaplan ruled, and had “no relationship to the official business of the United States.”

Before Mr. Trump left office, the Justice Department appealed Judge Kaplan’s ruling, and many legal observers predicted that a new attorney general, under Mr. Biden, would drop the Trump-era claims.

The brief filed on Monday night was the first time the Biden administration’s Justice Department, now led by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, weighed in on the issue. In the brief, department lawyers said that when Mr. Trump had denied raping Ms. Carroll, through the White House press office or in statements to reporters in the Oval Office and on the White House lawn, he was acting within the scope of his office.

“Elected public officials can — and often must — address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,” the department lawyers argued, adding, “Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives.”

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