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AG William Barr defends Justice Department intervention in Trump sexual assault case

AG William Barr defends Justice Department intervention in Trump sexual assault case

Attorney General William P. Barr on Wednesday defended the Justice Department’s intervention in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who alleges that President Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

Mr. Barr told reporters that federal case law is “crystal clear” that officials — including the president, vice presidents and members of Congress — can be represented by the federal government when tort claims arise from their duties. The protection is guaranteed by the Westfall Act, an obscure federal law passed by Congress in 1988.

“This is a normal application of the law,” Mr. Barr said at a press conference in Chicago to discuss the results of Operation Legend, a crime-fighting initiative.

“The law is clear, and it is done frequently,” he continued. “And the little tempest that is going on is because of the bizarre political environment in which we live.”

E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist, last year accused Mr. Trump of sexually assaulting her in a New York City department store in the mid-1990s.

The president has denied the claim and accused Ms. Carroll of lying, saying “she’s not my type” and “it never happened.” Those comments prompted Ms. Carroll to file a defamation lawsuit against the president.

Since Mr. Trump’s comments came during a presidential press conference, the case stems from his official government duty, Mr. Barr told reporters. Therefore, the United States can be substituted as a defendant under the Westfall Act, he said.

“When they are answering questions in office, even about personal affairs, any defamation claim is subject to Westfall,” he said.

Mr. Barr said substituting the Justice Department for an elected official has become “somewhat routine,” noting that it has occurred in other administrations.

In a court filing Tuesday, Justice Department lawyers argued that Mr. Trump’s remarks were made in the course of his official duties as president and therefore the government should take over his defense from his private lawyers.

The filing asked the court to designate the United States rather than Mr. Trump as the defendant and move the case from state court in New York to federal court.

Ms. Carroll has slammed the move, noting it occurred after her attorneys asked a judge to provide a DNA sample as part of pretrial discovery.

“Just when @realDonaldTrump is required to produce documents and DNA in discovery, he sics the DOJ on us,” she said in a tweet. “This is unprecedented.”

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Published at Wed, 09 Sep 2020 16:06:04 +0000