A law professor told PEOPLE last year that if the DOJ was allowed to represent the former president, the situation would be a "win-win" for him

By Sean Neumann
April 20, 2021 05:03 PM
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E. Jean Carroll Donald Trump
From left: E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump
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Lawyers for ex-Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll say it was "wrong and dangerous" for the Justice Department under Donald Trump to ask to defend him in her case against the former president.

Carroll, 77, sued Trump, 74, for defamation after he tweeted she was "totally lying" when she accused him of raping her in a New York City dressing room in the mid-1990s. He also claimed Carroll was making the rape claim to try and sell her memoir.

Then last year, the Justice Department unusually asked the court if it could represent then-President Trump, arguing his comments fell under the scope of his White House duties.

The Associated Press reports a federal judge denied that request, but the DOJ appealed the ruling days before Trump left office in January. If the DOJ represented him and he lost the case, U.S. taxpayers would be on the hook for paying Carroll in the lawsuit.

Carroll's lawyers — led by New York attorney Roberta Kaplan — say if the DOJ represents Trump, it could lead to a new rule that allows federal officials to essentially defame anyone on social media or in comments to the press and categorize it under their official duties.

"That rule is both wrong and dangerous, and this Court should reject Appellants' effort to avoid answering for Trump's conduct," Carroll's lawyers write in a new filing reviewed by PEOPLE.

Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Room of the White House
Donald Trump
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A spokesperson for the DOJ — which is now operating under President Joe Biden's administration — did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment about whether the department would continue its request to represent Trump.

Carroll said in a statement on Friday that the request last year was offensive to her personally, according to the AP.

"I hope that it is offensive to the Justice Department under President Biden," she said.

On Twitter, Carroll wrote that the DOJ's attempts to represent Trump in the case "dishonors the Office of the Presidency."

Georgetown University Law Center professor Heidi Li Feldman told PEOPLE last year that if the DOJ was allowed to represent Trump, the situation would be a "win-win" for him.

Trump faces a growing number of lawsuits in his personal capacity now that he's no longer president.

"It imposes costs on the taxpayer and it opens the door for some pretty dangerous precedent about the scope of the president's employment," Feldman told PEOPLE last year about what would happen if the federal government's lawyers were allowed to represent Trump.

Carroll said in her initial 2019 filing that Trump's comments about her had caused great "emotional pain and suffering" and had damaged "her reputation, honor, and dignity," and thus her career.

Her original filing also said that Trump "also deliberately implied that she [Carroll] had falsely accused other men of rape," and "for good measure, he insulted her physical appearance."

Trump denied knowing Carroll at all in a 2019 interview with The Hill — despite the fact they were previously photographed together, which he said was incidental — and said the rape never happened, prefacing his denial with "No. 1: She's not my type." 

Carroll's attorneys write that the DOJ's "extreme position" to try and represent Trump in court "would distort precedent, dishonor the Office of the Presidency, and give succor to the view that our most powerful political leaders stand entirely above the law."