Garland questioned at Senate hearing on DOJ’s move to defend Trump in defamation case
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday clarified the Justice Department’s decision to defend former President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by one of his rape accusers, E Jean Carroll.
Carroll accused Trump in 2019 of attempting to rape her in a Manhattan department store’s dressing room in the mid-1990s. She said he forced her against a wall, pulled down her underwear, and attempted to assault her with both his genitalia and fingers. After a struggle, she said, she was able to break free from his hold and ran out onto Fifth Avenue.
When the allegations surfaced, Trump unequivocally denied them from the Oval Office, telling reporters Carroll was “not his type.”
“Number one, she’s not my type,” Trump said. “Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”
Days later, more of the same.
“Totally lying. I don’t know anything about her,” he said. “I know nothing about this woman. I know nothing about her. She is — it’s just a terrible thing that people can make statements like that.”
At a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Garland was questioned by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont on a recent brief filed related to the effort.
“In the past few weeks, your department had endorsed some highly controversial positions taken by the former president’s justice department,” Leahy said. “For example, the Trump DOJ moved from state court to federal court a defamation charge involving an assault allegation against Donald Trump by a woman.”
“How is this coming about?” he asked. “Are these criticisms valid? Or what do you say about them?
Garland responded that he was aware some were upset by the decision. He reiterated that the department’s purpose is to administer the law currently on the books, not to back a specific administration.
“The job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present. Our job is to represent the American people,” Garland said. “Our job in doing so is to ensure adherence to the rule of law.”
Garland said the rule of law required “like cases to be treated like” and “that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes.”
“It is not always easy to apply that rule,” he went on. “Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy. But in every case, the job of the Justice Department is to make the best judgment it can as to what the law requires.”
Assistant US Attorneys filed a brief earlier this week arguing that Trump was acting in his official capacity when he spoke on an accusation brought forward by E. Jean Carroll, even though he may have been disrespectful.
“Elected public officials can — and often must — address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,” the brief read. “Even reprehensible conduct … can fall within the scope of employment.”
The DOJ said Trump’s conduct falls under the FTCA and Westfall acts and is therefore protected from civil tort liability. In opposition to the Justice Department, Carroll and her attorneys said Trump wasn’t considered an “officer of a federal agency” because he wasn’t working in an Executive Department, which Carroll defines as 15 cabinet-level agencies operating under the sitting president.
“The DOJ’s position is not only legally wrong, it is morally wrong since it would give federal officials free license to cover up private sexual misconduct by publicly brutalizing any woman who has the courage to come forward,” Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s attorney, said in a statement. “Calling a woman you sexually assaulted a ‘liar,’ a ‘slut,’ or ‘not my type,’ as Donald Trump did here, is not the official act of an American president.”