A day after the Justice Department said it would continue to try to defend former President Donald Trump in a defamation case filed by writer E. Jean Carroll, Democrats of the House judiciary committee called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to reverse the decision.
“Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that it would continue the previous administration’s push to represent former President Trump, at taxpayer expense, in a defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll,” said the letter sent Tuesday by the Democrats led by House judiciary committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. “That decision seems profoundly misguided. We write to urge you to reconsider.”
On Monday, the Justice Department filed a brief stating it would continue the department’s legal effort that began under the Trump administration to try and defend the former president against allegations of defamation.
Carroll, who wrote in her memoirs that Trump sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s, filed the lawsuit in late 2019, accusing the then-president of defaming her when he accused her of making up the alleged abuse in order to sell books.
In the briefing filed Monday, the Justice Department admitted Trump’s comments were “crude and disrespectful” but argued the case does not hinge on whether his response was appropriate nor whether what he said is true — the case is about whether his response to her fell within “the scope of his office or employment.”
And the department argues that it should be allowed to defend the president as what he said falls within these scopes.
“Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,” the department argued. “Courts have thus consistently and repeatedly held that allegedly defamatory statements made in that context are within the scope of elected officials’ employment — including when the statements were prompted by press inquires about the official’s private life.”
The filing was the first made on the matter under the Biden administration since the Justice Department filed an appeal in the waning days of the Trump administration against a lower court’s decision to block the federal agency from defending Trump.
In the letter Tuesday, the Democrats voiced concern over the department’s position that federal officials act within the scope of their office whenever they defame someone as long as there is at least some connection between the statement and their government responsibilities, stating it would set precedent.
“Are we to understand that federal employees are free to engage in private tortious conduct for personal gain, so long as they maintain federal employment and can assert some pre-textual benefit to the public for their actions? President Trump’s disgusting comments about Ms. Carrol had nothing to do with is official responsibilities as president, and the whole world knows it.”
“Survivors of sexual assault, among other victims, deserve better,” they said.
The Democrats called on Garland to explain the department’s position on the case, though they wouldn’t object to it changing its position before doing so.
Following the Justice Department’s decision to continue with the case, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday during a regular press conference that President Joe Biden was not consulted before submitting the filing.
“First, let me say that the president strongly believes in the independence of the Department of Justice,” she said. “The White House was not consulted by the Department of Justice on the decision to file this brief or its contents.”