President Donald Trump was addressing matters relating to his fitness for office when he claimed that a woman who said he raped her in a department store was lying and was politically motivated, Justice Department lawyers said Monday.
The lawyers argued in papers in Manhattan federal court that the president should be replaced as the defendant in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit by the Justice Department because he was acting in an official capacity when he made his statements.
They said he was entitled to refute Carroll's claims because she was trying to call “into question the president's fitness for office and a response was necessary for the president to effectively govern."
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The lawyers had made similar arguments before and were replying to written arguments submitted to a judge by lawyers for Carroll, a media figure who hosted an advice show in the mid-1990s when she says she was attacked.
On Monday, they wrote that every court that has considered the issue has found that the United States can substitute itself as the defendant when a defamation lawsuit against a federal elected official results from a statement made on a matter of concern or interest to the official's constituents.
“This is even clearer with respect to the defendant here — the President of the United States — and under the circumstances here, where the President addressed matters relating to his fitness for office as part of an official White House response to press inquiries,” they wrote.
Earlier this month, Carroll's attorneys argued the opposite, saying Trump can't insult their client and then cite his job as reason to remove himself as a defendant.
"Only in a world gone mad could it somehow be presidential, not personal, for Trump to slander a woman who he sexually assaulted,” they said.
Carroll has said Trump raped her in a department store dressing room a quarter century ago after they randomly crossed paths and engaged in conversation as each recognized the other's measure of fame.
Her lawyers argued that defamatory attacks by the president included assertions that Carroll had falsely accused other men of rape, that she lied about him to advance a secret political conspiracy and sell books and that he had never met her even though they’d been photographed together. The lawyers noted that Trump also had said: “She’s not my type.”
They said the Justice Department tried to step in as defendant in part to delay progression of the case, including Carroll’s effort to get a DNA sample from Trump to see if it matches male genetic material on a dress she says she wore the day of the alleged attack.
Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.