In a surprising turn of events for Democrats everywhere, the Biden Justice Department filed court papers this week requesting to mount a defense on behalf of former President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit over comments he made during his time in the White House, according to the New York Times.
The case at issue was initiated by former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, who claimed that the former president sexually assaulted her at a department store back in the 90s. Trump, for his part has denied the allegation, and Carroll argues that in doing so, he engaged in defamatory conduct toward her.
In September of last year, Attorney General William Barr had the case moved from New York state court to federal court, facilitating a Justice Department defense of the then-president, but in November, a federal judge determined that it was impermissible for the DOJ to intervene in the suit and defend Trump, as The Hill noted.
The DOJ subsequently appealed that ruling, though it was widely assumed by court watchers that the Biden administration would ultimately the department’s involvement in the matter and drop the case, according to the Times.
Despite arguments from Carroll’s attorneys in April that the Biden administration should not be working to shield Trump from the litigation simply due to his status as president at the time the comments at issue were made, the Justice Department shocked many by arguing that the former president was acting within the scope of his office when he made the remarks.
The DOJ’s brief on the issue stated, according to NBC News, “Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job. Courts have thus consistently and repeatedly held that allegedly defamatory statements made in that context are within the scope of elected officials’ employment – including when the statements were prompted by press inquiries about the official’s private life.”
The brief continued, as The Hill added, “Elected public officials can – and often must – address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office. Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives.”
Though the Biden DOJ lawyers stated that the former president was “crude and disrespectful” toward Carroll in his denial of her accusation and that some of his comments “were without question unnecessary and inappropriate,” they also maintained that the remarks “all pertained to the denial of wrongdoing.”
Despite Biden himself saying during last year’s presidential campaign that Trump was wrongly using the DOJ as though it were his own “private law firm,” perhaps the current president knows that allegations of his own personal wrongdoing are certain to emerge, and to deny his predecessor a defense now would set a precedent he might come to regret.