The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a notice of removal on Tuesday, removing a defamation case against President Donald Trump from New York State Court to the District Court of the Southern District of New York, and sought to swap the US government for Trump as the defendant in the case.
The move is the latest response by the government to a lawsuit filed against Trump by E. Jean Carroll last November, a journalist who alleges that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. After she went public about the alleged rape, Trump denied ever having met her and accused her of lying about the incident in order to make money from book sales and as part of a political agenda against his presidency. Carroll filed a civil suit for defamation in state court, claiming the president’s attacks against her character and integrity have caused her personal harm.
Trump had previously attempted to delay the case by claiming immunity; however, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Trump v. Vance that a sitting president does not enjoy absolute immunity from state court proceedings, New York judge Verna Saunders denied the delay and ordered the trial to move forward. Now, the DOJ is seeking to replace Trump as the defendant in the case, claiming that Trump was “acting within the scope of his office” when he denied raping Carroll. Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, if an employee of the government harms someone while acting in the scope of employment, the United States is substituted as the defendant and is subject to any liability resulting from the suit. This may mean that taxpayers would ultimately be on the hook for damages in the event Carroll wins her lawsuit.
At a press conference on Wednesday, US Attorney General William Barr defended the move, calling it “a normal application of the law.” Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s lawyer, said the move “shows even more starkly how far [Trump] is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out.” Carroll directly addressed the president’s actions on Twitter, challenging him to “BRING IT!”