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House Judiciary Democrats Urge DOJ to Reverse Position on Trump Defamation Lawsuit

Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) led Committee Democrats in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to reverse its decision to represent former President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll. The Members also requested an immediate briefing to explain the Department's position in this case. 

In their letter, the Members wrote, "As a policy matter, we are concerned that DOJ has taken the position that federal officials act within the scope of their employment—and, therefore, enjoy immunity from civil liability—whenever they defame someone, so long as there is some connection between the statement and their official responsibilities.  Are we to understand that federal employees are free to engage in private tortious conduct for personal gain, so long as they maintain federal employment and can assert some pretextual benefit to the public for their actions?  President Trump’s disgusting comments about Ms. Carroll had nothing to do with his official responsibilities as President, and the whole world knows it. Survivors of sexual assault, among other victims, deserve better."  

Full text of the letter can be found below and here

June 8, 2021

The Honorable Merrick B. Garland
Attorney General of the United States
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530


Dear Attorney General Garland,

Yesterday, the Department of Justice announced that it would continue the previous Administration’s push to represent former President Trump, at taxpayer expense, in a defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll.  That decision seems profoundly misguided.  We write to urge you to reconsider.

Although DOJ maintains that its position has nothing to do with the merits of Ms. Carroll’s case, the facts surrounding the lawsuit matter greatly in understanding the deeply problematic implications of the Department’s actions.  Ms. Carroll alleged in an article in June 2019 that Mr. Trump sexually assaulted her inside a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York in the 1990s.  Mr. Trump responded by denying the assault, accusing Ms. Carroll of lying about the incident, and stating that he could not have engaged in any sexual conduct with her because she was not his “type.”  Ms. Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Trump based on these statements.  She has been waiting for more than a year and a half for the opportunity to make her case on the merits.

As a policy matter, we are concerned that DOJ has taken the position that federal officials act within the scope of their employment—and, therefore, enjoy immunity from civil liability—whenever they defame someone, so long as there is some connection between the statement and their official responsibilities.  Are we to understand that federal employees are free to engage in private tortious conduct for personal gain, so long as they maintain federal employment and can assert some pretextual benefit to the public for their actions?  President Trump’s disgusting comments about Ms. Carroll had nothing to do with his official responsibilities as President, and the whole world knows it. Survivors of sexual assault, among other victims, deserve better. 

Although we appreciate that the Department is constrained in the extent to which it can engage with us on matters related pending litigation, we request that you provide us with a briefing to explain the Department’s position in this case.  We would, of course, not object if the Department changed its position before such a briefing can be arranged.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jerrold Nadler                                                             Zoe Lofgren
Chairman                                                                    Member of Congress
House Committee on the Judiciary                                                                           

Sheila Jackson Lee                                                     Steve Cohen
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Henry C. “Hank” Johnson                                          Theodore E. Deutch
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Karen Bass                                                                  David N. Cicilline
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Eric Swalwell                                                             Ted W. Lieu
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Jamie Raskin                                                               Pramila Jayapal
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

J. Luis Correa                                                              Mary Gay Scanlon
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress                            

Sylvia R. Garcia                                                         Joe Neguse
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress                                               

Lucy McBath                                                              Greg Stanton
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Madeleine Dean                                                          Veronica Escobar
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Mondaire Jones                                                           Deborah Ross
Member of Congress                                                  Member of Congress

Cori Bush
Member of Congress

cc:       The Honorable Jim Jordan, Ranking Member, House Committee on the Judiciary
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