Donald Trump has been accused of sexual assault by over 20 women, including writer E. Jean Carroll, who is suing the president for defamation after he denied the allegations. Now, in a surprising move, the United States Department of Justice has announced that it will be taking over the defense of Trump in that lawsuit, because Trump was in office when he made the allegedly defamatory statements. The move is raising eyebrows even further because it comes just as Trump was expected to have to provide a DNA sample to be tested against the dress Carroll says she wore on the day of the assault.
Carroll’s allegation came in June of 2019, when she released her book What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal, in which Trump was one of an assortment of men Carroll described as “hideous.” She accused the president of raping her in the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman department store in the 1990s, writing that he “opens the overcoat, unzips his pants, and, forcing his fingers around my private area, thrusts his penis halfway — or completely, I’m not certain — inside me.” Carroll still has the black dress she wore that day as evidence of the assault, which she hopes will corroborate her story, though she passed the statute of limitations to report the alleged rape.
When President Trump denied her allegations, claiming he didn’t know who Carroll was and that she wasn’t his "type," Carroll filed her defamation lawsuit against him, saying, “While I can no longer hold Donald Trump accountable for assaulting me more than twenty years ago, I can hold him accountable for lying about it and I fully intend to do so.” Just last month a judge ruled the lawsuit could go forward. According to the demands from the New York State, and Carroll's legal team, Trump was going to be forced to provide a DNA sample, produce documents, and sit for a deposition.
“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,” Roberta Kaplan, Partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, and counsel for E. Jean Carroll, said in a statement.
This switch — from having Trump's legal team at his defense to having the entire D.O.J. protect him — means that taxpayer money will go toward defending Trump, continuing a pattern in which Trump has used campaign funds or taxpayer money to pay his legal bills. In doing this, the president is also using the full weight of the U.S. government and the office of the presidency to crush a citizen and her credible accusation. CNN legal analyst and University of Texas law school professor Steve Vladeck said that the DOJ taking over the lawsuit could not only further delay it, it could potentially kill the lawsuit completely because the federal government cannot be sued for defamation.
“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,” Kaplan said.
Trump's decision to put the full weight of government behind him to protect him from Carroll's accusation has only stirred more suspicion that it's true. Carroll, for her part, has remained consistent in her account and her effort to share her story.
“President Trump knows that I told the truth when I said that he had sexually assaulted me in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman. He also knows that he was lying when he said that he had never met me before and that I ‘wasn’t his type,’” Carroll said in a statement. “Today’s actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying. But Trump underestimates me, and he also has underestimated the American people.”