WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The US Justice Department is seeking to take over the defence of President Donald Trump in a defamation suit brought by advice columnist E Jean Carroll, who claims Trump raped her two decades ago.
The move could further delay a suit in which Carroll is demanding potentially damaging evidence from Trump during the final weeks before the presidential election, including a deposition and a DNA sample to compare to a dress she claims she was wearing at the time of the alleged attack.
It could also leave taxpayers on the hook for any damages awarded in the case.
In a court filing Tuesday (Sept 8), the Justice Department said Trump was acting "within the scope" of his job as president when he said Carroll lied about the incident, prompting her lawsuit.
The US also moved the case to Manhattan federal court from a New York state court, where a judge last month denied his request to stall the suit.
"Today's actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying," Carroll said in a statement Tuesday.
It's not clear why the Justice Department is only now seeking to take over Trump's defence of the suit, which was filed in November 2019.
Trump, who has denied he raped Carroll, has been represented in the case by his longtime outside lawyer Marc Kasowitz.
The lawyer didn't immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Justice Department also didn't immediately return an email.
The move comes as the Trump campaign has reportedly been facing a cash crunch due in part to its spending on legal fees defending suits against the president.
According to the New York Times, Kasowitz has been paid more than US$820,000 (S$1.1 million) from campaign funds, though it's not clear if that money was related to his work on Carroll's suit.
Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, said in a statement that she would fight the Justice Department filing.
The government's claim that Trump was acting in his official capacity as president "when he lied about sexually assaulting our client, explaining that she 'wasn't his type,'" is "shocking," Kaplan said.
Kaplan said the Justice Department move came on the deadline for Trump to appeal the state-court judge's ruling requiring him to provide evidence.
"Trump's effort to wield the power of the US government to evade responsibility for his private misconduct is without precedent, and shows even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out," Kaplan said.
Because Trump was acting officially when he called Carroll a liar, the US should be substituted for the president as the defendant in the case, a Justice Department team led by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark said in the Tuesday filing, which argued the suit fell under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
If approved by a judge, the responsibility for defending the case and paying any judgment would fall on the US government.
The case is Carroll v. United States, 20-cv-07311, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).