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Why Is the DOJ Intervening in E. Jean Carroll’s Suit Against Trump? A Former US Attorney Explains

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10.09.2020

Drew Angerer/Getty

Yesterday, in what the New York Times dubbed a “highly unusual legal move,” the Department of Justice moved to take over the defense of President Donald Trump in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by E. Jean Carroll, a writer and advice columnist, who alleges Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s.

Carroll sued Trump for defamation in New York state court last November, months after New York Magazine first published a story containing her allegations. Her lawsuit claims that the president defamed her when, in the hours and days after the story was published that June, Trump denied it at least three times, saying that her story was fabricated, that he had never met Carroll (despite a 1987 photograph showing them together at a party), and that he would not have assaulted Carroll because she was “not [his] type.” “The rape of a woman is a violent crime; compounding that crime with acts of malicious libel is abhorrent,” her lawsuit states.

Earlier this summer, Trump tried and failed to have the lawsuit put on hold, arguing that under the Constitution, a sitting president was immune from civil lawsuits in state court. A judge rejected that theory last month; then yesterday, on the last day for Trump to appeal that ruling, the Department of Justice moved to get involved, theorizing that because Trump was acting as a government employee when he denied Carroll’s claims, the “United States” is the proper defendant. If a federal judge permits the move, it would allow government lawyers, paid with taxpayer money, to defend the president—and would likely result in Carroll’s case being dismissed.

I chatted with Barbara McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, to break down what the remarkable motion could mean for Carroll’s quest to hold Trump accountable. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Yesterday, the Department of Justice filed a motion to move the case to federal court and substitute the United States in as a defendant for Donald Trump in E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit. What does that mean?

This is a fairly routine thing that the government does from time to time: Somebody who is a government employee gets sued and they take it to the boss and say, “Look, I got sued........

© Mother Jones


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