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DOJ seeks to defend Trump in suit by E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of sexual assault

The Justice Department argued that under the Federal Tort Claims Act, its lawyers can usurp Trump's private legal team.
Image: E. Jean Carroll
E. Jean Carroll at her home in Warwick, N.Y., in June 2019.Eva Deitch / for The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The Justice Department filed court documents Tuesday seeking to represent President Donald Trump in a lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll, who claimed he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

The Justice Department, which is supposed to act as an independent federal law enforcement agency, argued that under the Federal Tort Claims Act, or FTCA, its lawyers can usurp Trump's private legal team and change the venue from New York state court to U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

"Because President Trump was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the plaintiff's claim arose, the United States will file a motion to substitute itself for President Trump in this action for any claim for which the FTCA provides the exclusive remedy," the department argued in court documents.

The federal act gives federal government employees immunity from lawsuits. However, it is highly unusual for the Justice Department to intervene in a private legal matter on behalf of a sitting president.

Last year, Carroll, an advice columnist, accused Trump of sexually assaulting her at a Bergdorf Goodman store in New York City in the mid-1990s. She said the friendly encounter turned violent when Trump, then a businessman, pushed her up against a dressing room wall, unzipped his pants and forced himself on her. Carroll said she pushed him off and ran from the store.

Trump has denied the claim, saying "she's not my type" and it "never happened." Carroll said no attendants were in the dressing room area at the time of the alleged assault, and she did not file a report with the New York Police Department.

Carroll filed a defamation suit against Trump in November after the president denied her allegation. The Justice Department argued that because the president denied the accusation in his official capacity, the agency can defend him against the suit. She is seeking unspecified damages and a retraction of Trump's statements.

Carroll's lawyers also served notice to Trump's legal team this year for Trump to submit a DNA sample for "analysis and comparison against unidentified male DNA" present on the dress she said she wore at the time of the alleged assault. A New York judge last month also denied Trump's move to temporarily halt the suit.

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Carroll responded to the court filing in a tweet Tuesday evening, saying she and her attorney, Roberta Kaplan, are prepared.

"Sir, I and my attorney Robbie Kaplan, are ready! So is every woman who has ever been silenced! So is every American citizen who has been trampled by Bill Barr and the DOJ! BRING IT!" Carroll wrote.

Carroll and Kaplan released separate official statements Tuesday night calling the move by the Justice Department offensive.

Kaplan said: "Realizing that there was no valid basis to appeal that decision in the New York courts, on the very day that he would have been required to appeal, Trump instead enlisted the U.S. Department of Justice to replace his private lawyers and argue that when he lied about sexually assaulting our client, explaining that she 'wasn't his type,' he was acting in his official capacity as President of the United States.

"Even in today's world, that argument is shocking. It offends me as a lawyer, and offends me even more as a citizen. Trump's effort to wield the power of the U.S. government to evade responsibility for his private misconduct is without precedent, and shows even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out."

Carroll said in her statement that the Justice Department's court filing shows that Trump "will do everything possible" to stop the case from going forward. She added, "But Trump underestimates me, and he also has underestimated the American people."