The Biden administration filed a defense on Monday of ex-President Donald Trump’s claim that he was working in his official capacity as president when he smeared writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her. Trump claimed Carroll was lying, and said she wasn’t his “type,” in 2019.
The new filing by the Justice Department signaled that Attorney General Merrick Garland will continue former Attorney General Bill Barr’s surprising effort to use the department to defend Trump in Carroll’s personal defamation suit against the then-president.
The Biden administration’s decision drew shock from some legal experts, including former federal prosecutors.
Joyce Alene White Vance, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under the Obama administration, observed that the filing “appears to be an effort to protect DOJ’s ability to defend employees in future case” but ultimately “seems more like a lose-lose for them.”
“If DOJ loses the case, Trump will just claim they threw him under the bus,” she tweeted.
Ex-Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman opined via Twitter that the move “feels questionable as well as frustrating.”
“Yes, there’s a process in place, which I’m sure they followed in the Jean Carroll case. But the focus of the process is long term litigation interests of the DOJ,” he tweeted. “And given the risk of getting a bad precedent on appeal, the decision feels questionable as well as frustrating.”
“DOJ is just as wrong now under Garland as it was before under Barr (as a federal district court judge already has found),” tweeted Elie Honig, who formerly served as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York under the Bush and Obama administrations.
“This much has become clear: Merrick Garland is *not* the anti-Barr,” Honig wrote in another tweet.
National security attorney Bradley Moss was less surprised.
“Did people really think DOJ was going to roll over in the E. Jean Carroll defamation suit? It would be contrary to DOJ practice given the case law, and no way Biden was going to intervene either,” Moss tweeted.
Meanwhile, the White House is attempting to distance itself from the Justice Department’s decision, with Biden spokesperson telling Politico on Monday night that “White House was not consulted by DOJ on the decision to file this brief or its contents.”
“While we are not going to comment on this ongoing litigation, the American people know well that President Biden and his team have utterly different standards from their predecessors for what qualify as acceptable statements,” said spokesperson Andrew Bates.
Read the filing below: