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Why is the Justice Dept taking over Trump's defense in Carroll case?

After a woman accused Trump of a violent sexual assault, he lashed out at his accuser, prompting a defamation case. Now, the DOJ is intervening.
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Donald Trump's private legal team have repeatedly tried and failed to make E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit go away. As of late yesterday, the Justice Department filed court documents, declaring its intention to represent the president in the case.

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 its court filing.

As NBC News' report added, "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."

For those who may need a refresher on the controversy, Carroll spent years as a prominent writer, media figure, and advice columnist, including having hosted a show on America's Talking, which later became MSNBC. As regular readers may recall, in June 2019, she also joined a long list of women who've accused Trump of sexual misconduct.

Indeed, in a book published last year, Carroll described an alleged encounter in a New York department store in the mid-1990s, which the writer described as a violent sexual assault committed by the future president. Though definitively proving or disproving Carroll's claim is difficult -- there is no security footage to review -- the writer said she confided in two friends shortly after the alleged incident, telling them at the time what she said occurred. Those friends soon after came forward with on-the-record accounts.

She also wrote in her book, "The Donna Karan coatdress still hangs on the back of my closet door, unworn and unlaundered since that evening." It's led Carroll to seek Trump's DNA as part of her case.

The president has denied the claim, arguing, among other things, that his latest accuser is a "liar" who isn't his "type." Following those comments, Carroll sued Trump for defamation. (When the allegations first surfaced over the summer, Trump issued a statement claiming that he'd never met E. Jean Carroll. There is, however, a photograph of the two interacting at an event in the mid-1980s.)

Just last month, a New York judge rejected the latest in a series of efforts to delay the case, and now the Trump/Barr Justice Department has decided to intervene.

This means, among other things, that American taxpayers are now paying for the president's legal defense in this private civil case, because as far as the DOJ is concerned, when Trump lashed out at the woman who accused him of sexual assault, he was "acting within the scope of his office."

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal described the Justice Department's position as "insane," adding that DOJ officials "are doing everything they can to appear to be Trump's personal law firm."

Complicating matters, if the Justice Department successfully argues that the president's alleged defamation was part of his official duties, the case may be thrown out of court. Indeed, Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, explained that yesterday's move appears to be part of an effort to dismiss the case altogether "because the government itself can't be sued for defamation."

A New York Times report added, "Though the law gives employees of the federal government immunity from most defamation lawsuits, legal experts said it has rarely, if ever, been used before to protect a president, especially for actions taken before he entered office."

Watch this space.

Postscript: It’s also worth noting for context that the public was confronted with a recording from 2005 in which Trump was heard bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said that he kisses women he considers attractive -- “I don’t even wait,” Trump claimed at the time -- which he said he could get away with because of his public profile.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the recording. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p***y.”

Among the claims raised by Carroll was an allegation, denied by the president, that Trump “forced his fingers around my private area.”