clearn.png
Wednesday July 28th, 2021 3:39AM

Justice Dept. push into Trump case could prompt dismissal

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended the Justice Department's move to intervene in a defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump, even as experts were skeptical of the federal government's effort to protect the president in a seemingly private dispute.

The Justice Department’s action is “a normal application of the law. The law is clear. It is done frequently," Barr said at an unrelated news conference in Chicago.

He added, “The little tempest that is going on is largely because of the bizarre political environment in which we live.”

But experts said it's far from clear that the conduct at issue — whether Trump defamed E. Jean Carroll, a writer who accused him of raping her at a New York luxury department store in the 1990s — has anything to do with the scope of his White House duties. The department's move is likely to have an ancillary benefit for Trump in delaying the case, but administration lawyers have a tough task at hand trying to argue that the president was acting in his official capacity when he denied Carroll's allegations last year, experts say.

“I wouldn’t make such an argument, and if a president approached me to do it, I would say, ‘Don’t,’” said Stuart Gerson, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Division in President George H.W. Bush’s administration when Barr was attorney general for the first time.

“The president gets sued all the time and is defended by the government,” Gerson added, “but those are for lawsuits that have to do with actions in his official capacity as the president. This isn't anything like that.”

The Justice Department's action is consistent with the expansive view of executive authority it has taken under Barr and with its practice of taking legal positions benefiting the president's personal interests, including asking the Supreme Court just last month to allow him to block critics from his Twitter account. It is likely to deepen concerns from critics that the department is functioning as a private law firm for the president, with the attorney general as his personal lawyer, which Barr has adamantly denied.

In the Carroll case, the stakes are especially significant since a move to transfer the lawsuit from state to federal court could not only delay it but also lead to its dismissal since federal courts have not historically permitted defamation claims against federal employees for actions taken in their official capacity.

On Wednesday, Barr described the intervention as “somewhat routine" and said the normal process was followed in this case. He told NBC News in an interview broadcast Wednesday that he had been told the Justice Department's Civil Division was going to become involved and that he thought it was “fine” but did not have to personally sign off on it.

He cited the Westfall Act, which enables the Justice Department to be substituted as a defendant when federal employees are sued in state court for actions within the scope of their official duties, and for the case to be transferred to federal court, where recovery of damages may be more difficult.

For instance: The defense of a lawsuit against a postal worker who clips a car on a daily delivery route could be taken over by the federal government since the collision involved the mailman's official duties.

He pointed to the Justice Department's involvement more than a decade ago in the case of Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., who was sued for defamation by an American Muslim civil rights group. A judge in 2005 dismissed the case, ruling that Ballenger made the comments in his official capacity.

Legal experts say it's certainly not unusual for the federal government to seek to take over a state lawsuit against a federal employee, as the department is trying to do here.

But that doesn't resolve the question of whether the president was acting in the scope of his official duties when he is alleged to have defamed Carroll, nor is it clear that the same lawsuit protections covering federal employees under the Westfall Act also extend to the president, said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor.

“If it's so clear and obvious and normal a case, why did DOJ wait so long” to get involved, he said. “If it was as routine as the attorney general wants us to believe, they would have filed the certification (to take over the case in federal court) the day after the lawsuit was filed.”

Despite the “suspicious” timing, Vladeck said, the actual arguments the department is advancing are not frivolous and are “not open and shut in either direction.” The department contends Trump was acting in his official capacity when he denied Carroll's allegations because he was “speaking to or responding to inquiries from the press, much as the elected officials in the cases cited above were speaking to the press or making other public statements at the time of their challenged actions.”

James Pfander, a Northwestern University professor, said Trump might consider it a win just getting the case moved from state to federal court, “where things might slow down and a judge more sympathetic to the president's claims might be presiding.”

Vladeck agreed, saying “Trump wins even if he loses." The Justice Department's abrupt intervention two months before the election slows the case down just as Trump was about “to be required to produce documents, provide a DNA sample, and sit for a deposition,” according to a statement from Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, who called the government's argument “shocking.”

For Trump, “the best case scenario is this move leads to the dismissal of the lawsuit," Vladeck said. “The worst case scenario is Trump is no worse off six months from now than he is today.”

____

Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Unprecedented Pacific Northwest fires burn hundreds of homes
Deadly windblown wildfires raging across the Pacific Northwest destroyed hundreds of homes in Oregon, prompting the governor to say it could be the greatest loss of life and property from wildfire in state history
6:50PM ( 44 minutes ago )
Book: Trump said of virus, 'I wanted to always play it down'
A new book reveals that President Donald Trump seemed to understand the severity of the coronavirus threat even as he was telling the nation it was no worse than the flu and insisting the government had it totally under control
6:42PM ( 52 minutes ago )
New fire breaks out in crowded refugee camp on Greek island
Fire has again struck Greece’s notoriously overcrowded refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, a day after a blaze swept through the camp and left thousands in need of emergency shelter
6:37PM ( 57 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump and Biden run vastly different pandemic campaigns
President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden are taking diametrically opposite approaches to campaigning during a pandemic
6:14PM ( 1 hour ago )
Vaccine by Nov. 3? Halted study explains just how unlikely
The National Institutes of Health director is telling Congress that AstraZeneca's suspension of its COVID-19 vaccine study shows there will be “no compromises” on safety in developing the shots
6:13PM ( 1 hour ago )
Official claims pressure to alter Homeland Security intel
An official at the Department of Homeland Security says he was pressured by agency leaders to make his intelligence reports reflect the priorities of the Trump administration
6:12PM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Trump raises $210 million, robust but well short of Biden
President Donald Trump and Republicans jointly raised $210 million in August, a robust sum but one that was still dwarfed by the record $364.5 million raised by Democrats and their nominee, Joe Biden
3:47PM ( 3 hours ago )
NIH: Halted vaccine study shows 'no compromises' on safety
The National Institutes of Health director is telling Congress that AstraZeneca's suspension of its COVID-19 vaccine study shows there will be “no compromises” on safety in developing the shots
3:06PM ( 4 hours ago )
Norwegian lawmaker nominates Trump for Nobel Peace Prize
An anti-immigrant Norwegian lawmaker says he has nominated U.S. President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in the Middle East
2:02PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online National News
'Unprecedented' Pacific Northwest fires burn 100s of homes
Firefighters in the Pacific Northwest are scrambling to keep up with dozens of wildfires that have burned houses, forced people to flee and trapped firefighters and civilians
5:02PM ( 2 hours ago )
Jimmie Johnson teams with Ganassi on 2-year IndyCar program
Jimmie Johnson will transition from NASCAR to IndyCar with Chip Ganassi Racing in a partnership that could pair two of the most dominant drivers of this generation on one team
11:06AM ( 8 hours ago )
'It's going horribly': College towns fret about census count
Officials in college towns all over the U.S. are fretting that off-campus students are being counted in places other than the communities where their schools are located
9:11AM ( 10 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
No virus aid before election? Pessimism before Senate vote
Top Republicans senators are making pessimistic predictions about securing a bipartisan coronavirus relief package before the November election
5:37PM ( 1 hour ago )
Woodward defends decision to withhold Trump's virus comments
Bob Woodward, facing widespread criticism for only now revealing President Donald Trump’s early concerns about the severity of the coronavirus, says he needed time to be sure that Trump’s private comments from February were accurate
5:30PM ( 2 hours ago )
Dem report: Postal Service changes delay prescription drugs
Delivery of mail-order prescription drugs was delayed significantly this summer after the new postmaster general ordered major changes in U.S. Postal Service operations
4:41PM ( 2 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Unprecedented Pacific Northwest fires burn hundreds of homes
Deadly windblown wildfires raging across the Pacific Northwest destroyed hundreds of homes in Oregon, prompting the governor to say it could be the greatest loss of life and property from wildfire in state history
6:50PM ( 44 minutes ago )
Book: Trump said of virus, 'I wanted to always play it down'
A new book reveals that President Donald Trump seemed to understand the severity of the coronavirus threat even as he was telling the nation it was no worse than the flu and insisting the government had it totally under control
6:42PM ( 52 minutes ago )
New fire breaks out in crowded refugee camp on Greek island
Fire has again struck Greece’s notoriously overcrowded refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, a day after a blaze swept through the camp and left thousands in need of emergency shelter
6:37PM ( 57 minutes ago )
The Latest: La. official fears delays in mail ballot count
Louisiana’s election commissioner says she is concerned the volume of absentee mail ballots expected for the Nov. 3 election amid the coronavirus pandemic could delay tabulation of results by two to six days — even if mail balloting isn’t expanded as Gov. John Bel Edwards wants
6:34PM ( 1 hour ago )
Corner lockdown: Ramsey gets 5 years, $105 million from Rams
Jalen Ramsey is becoming the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history after agreeing to a five-year, $105 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Rams
6:33PM ( 1 hour ago )