The US Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to defend President Donald Trump in a defamation case against a woman who accuses him of raping her.
As part of a court case, the department is preparing to replace the president’s private lawyers and take over the case.
Columnist E Jean Carroll accuses Mr. Trump of assaulting her at a Manhattan department store in the 1990s.
In a lawsuit, she claims the president defamed her when he denied her complaint, saying she “wasn’t his type.”
Critics of Mr. Trump say that during his presidency he compromised the US Department of Justice, which is supposed to operate independently of the White House.
The president has so far been represented in the case, which was filed in New York state court in November 2019, by his personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz.
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What did the Department of Justice say?
His lawyers say in Tuesday’s court case that Mr. Trump can be defended by government lawyers because he served as president when he denied Ms. Carroll’s allegation.
“President Trump was acting within the scope of his duties as President of the United States at the time of the incidents giving rise to the plaintiff’s defamation complaint,” the record reads.
He is seeking to elevate the case in federal court through state court.
Government lawyers cite the Federal Tort Claims Act, which provides US government employees with some immunity from prosecution.
Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas Law School, told CNN that such an intervention by the Department of Justice was highly unusual.
The legal analyst said the court filing could effectively kill the case because the federal government cannot be sued for libel.
The move comes a month after a state court judge said Mr. Trump could not use a legal immunity defense in the case.
The president is currently in the middle of a re-election campaign against Democratic challenger Joe Biden in November.
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How did E Jean Carroll respond?
Ms Carroll – who is an advice columnist for Elle magazine – said in a statement: “Today’s actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to prevent the discovery to move forward in my case before the next election to try to prevent a jury from deciding which of us is lying. ”
Her legal team is asking the president to provide a DNA sample so they can determine if her genetic material is on a black Donna Karan dress she says she was wearing at the time of the alleged assault.
Her lawyer, Roberta A Kaplan, said in a statement Tuesday evening that the Justice Department’s intervention was “shocking.”
“Trump’s effort to use the power of the US government to evade responsibility for his private fault is unprecedented and shows even more clearly just how far he is prepared to go to prevent the truth from coming out,” the lawyer.
What does E Jean Carroll claim?
She says the attack happened at a Bergdorf Goodman store in Midtown Manhattan in late 1995 or early 1996, when the two crossed paths while shopping.
The former apprentice star and real estate mogul reportedly asked her for advice when shopping for lingerie for another woman and jokingly asked her to model her for him.
In the locker room, she said Mr. Trump pounced on her, pinned her against a wall and imposed himself on her.
Ms. Carroll claims to have succeeded in pushing him back after a “colossal struggle”.
Mr Trump and Ms Carroll were around 50 at the time and he was married to Marla Maples.
Mr. Trump has publicly denied the allegation on several occasions, including claiming that Ms. Carroll is “totally lying” and that her claim is “fiction.”