KEY POINTS

  • DOJ lawyers argue Trump's comments were part of his official function as president
  • Trump was previously accused of raping a columnist in a dressing room
  • Trump said the columnist was lying about the incident to boost book sales

The Department of Justice on Monday backed former President Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit filed against him by a former columnist who accused him of raping her more than two decades ago. 

In a court brief filed late Monday, Justice Department attorneys argued that Trump acted in an official capacity when he said E. Jean Carroll lied about being raped to boost the sales of her memoir “What Do We Need Men For?”

The department, now under President Joe Biden, said Trump’s comments were part of his official functions as president, even if they pertained to a personal matter. The lawyers also said the DOJ should be able to substitute itself for Trump as the defendant in the case.

"Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official's job," they wrote in the brief. "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."

"Then-President Trump's response to Ms. Carroll's serious allegations of sexual assault included statements that questioned her credibility in terms that were crude and disrespectful. But this case does not concern whether Mr. Trump's response was appropriate. Nor does it turn on the truthfulness of Ms. Carroll's allegations."

The department's position in the case came as no surprise to an expert who said the decision was likely part of an effort to protect future federal officials and presidents. 

"The issue really comes down to, they're trying to protect future presidents from the chipping away of protections that they're now entitled to. So as distasteful as it may be for current officials, as I said, they're playing the long game," Michael Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, told CNN.

The White House was not consulted on the Justice Department's brief. 

In the memoir, Carroll said Trump raped her inside a dressing room in a Bergdorf Goodman store.

“The moment the dressing-room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and puts his mouth against my lips,” read an excerpt of her memoir, obtained by The Cut.

“The next moment, still wearing correct business attire, shirt, tie, suit jacket, overcoat, 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.”

While the book contained a photo showing Trump and Carroll together at a 1987 party, Trump has vehemently denied the incident.

“I’ve never met this person in my life,” Trump said. “She is trying to sell a new book — that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section.”

Former US president Donald Trump was impeached for incitement that led to a riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 where his supporters sought to overturn the result of the presidential election won by Joe Biden Former US president Donald Trump was impeached for incitement that led to a riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 where his supporters sought to overturn the result of the presidential election won by Joe Biden Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski