Political News

Judge considering DOJ request to represent Trump in rape defamation lawsuit

Posted October 21, 2020 1:19 p.m. EDT
Updated October 21, 2020 6:32 p.m. EDT

— A federal judge is set to decide whether to accept the Justice Department's argument that President Donald Trump acted in his official capacity when denying a rape claim made by a longtime magazine columnist, after planned oral arguments to discuss the matter were thwarted Wednesday when a department lawyer was barred from entering the courthouse due to New York's coronavirus-related restrictions.

The former columnist, E. Jean Carroll, has accused Trump of raping her in a dressing room at a luxury Manhattan department store in the 1990s and is suing him for defamation.

The Justice Department is seeking to replace the President as the defendant in the case and has argued in court filings that Trump's response to Carroll's claims was an effort to preserve his ability to perform the duties of the presidency.

If the Justice Department is allowed to intervene, it would likely torpedo Carroll's lawsuit, since the federal government can't be sued for defamation.

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Carroll told reporters that her lawyers were "righting this wrong so women can be secure in America that when they file a complaint against a powerful man, it will not be tossed to the DOJ."

"This is just not for me," she added. "This is for every woman in America."

Oral arguments cut short

Justice Department lawyers and Carroll's attorneys had been scheduled to present oral arguments to US District Judge Lewis Kaplan in New York federal court, but about an hour before the appearance was expected to begin, Justice Department lawyer Stephen Terrell filed a letter to the court saying he was unable to enter the courthouse because he had traveled from Virginia.

Virginia is among the states on New York's quarantine list, which requires anyone traveling from certain states to quarantine for 14 days upon entering New York.

After denying Terrell's request to postpone the hearing, the judge asked the Justice Department lawyers, who participated by phone, if they wanted to present oral arguments by phone, have the judge rule based solely on the written briefs that had already been submitted or have another eligible lawyer participate on their behalf.

Justice Department lawyer William Lane elected to have the judge decide based on the briefs, over the objection of Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, who said her client had driven a considerable distance to appear in court Wednesday. Kaplan later told reporters she was "astonished" by the Justice Department's request.

"In decades now of litigating in courtrooms throughout the country, I've never seen the Department of Justice decline to make an oral argument when all that it meant here would be having to argue by phone," she said.

In a court filing earlier this week, lawyers for the department wrote with reference to Carroll's rape claim, which appeared in a 2019 book she wrote, that "even false allegations that the President committed such a crime could obviously impact the President's ability to effectively govern."

In the wake of Carroll's accusations, Trump denied raping her, telling reporters, "She's not my type." He also alleged Carroll had lied to boost her book sales.

Carroll filed her case in New York state court, and after Trump challenged it, a trial court judge ruled in August that the lawsuit could proceed, paving the way for Carroll's attorneys to move forward in their efforts to obtain a DNA sample from Trump and take his deposition under oath.

Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department filed to replace Trump as the defendant.

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