White House got no heads-up on Justice decision on Trump defamation suit

The White House said Tuesday it was not given a heads-up by the Justice Department that it would continue a defense of former President Trump in a defamation suit over his denial of writer E. Jean Carroll’s rape allegations.

“The president strongly believes in the independence of the Department of Justice [DOJ]. The White House was not consulted by the Department of Justice on the decision to file this brief or its contents,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. 

Asked if the decision upset Biden, Psaki said he’s been clear “about his view about his predecessor’s comments, about his predecessor’s language and about his predecessor’s approach and his engagement” toward the Justice Department.

The Justice Department under Trump moved to defend the then-president against a lawsuit from Carroll, who alleged Trump defamed her in denying her rape allegations. The move drew criticism from Democrats in particular who had for years complained that Trump used the DOJ and the attorney general as his personal lawyer.

A federal judge in October rejected the government’s effort to intervene on Trump’s behalf. But the Biden Justice Department on Monday night filed a brief with a federal appeals court in New York adopting the Trump administration’s position that Trump could not be sued because he made the alleged defamatory statements in his official role as president.

The Biden Justice Department wrote in its filing that Trump’s remarks, in which he denied the rape allegations and said Carroll was “totally lying” and “not my type,” were “crude and disrespectful.” But the DOJ maintained that the legal position was sound. If the appeal is granted, Carroll’s lawsuit could be dismissed.

The argument from Biden’s DOJ puts the administration in the awkward position of defending Trump, even while White House officials seek to distance themselves from the former president’s practices and positions. It also underscores Biden’s pledge to put up a wall between the Oval Office and the department. The president previously broke with his own DOJ  on the seizure of journalists’ records.

Tags Department of Justice Donald Trump Jen Psaki Trump defamation suit

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