United States Attorney General Merrick Garland defended a decision by the Justice Department to continue representing Donald Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who accused the former US president of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s.
“The job of the Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration previous or present,” Garland said in an appearance before a US Senate panel on Wednesday.
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“The essence of the rule of law … is that like cases be treated like, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans that there not be one rule for friends and another for foes,” Garland said.
The Department of Justice, which represents US government officials in lawsuits related to their official duties, said this week it was proceeding with its defence of the former president, which began under the previous administration.
“It is not always easy to apply that rule. Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy,” said Garland, who has come under sharp criticism for the decision.
Critics have argued government lawyers should not be involved in defending Trump because the case relates to alleged personal conduct that took place prior to Trump running for office.
In a letter to Garland, a group of 21 members of the US House of Representatives said they objected to the decision. The department “should not spend taxpayer dollars to defend former President Trump from a defamation case … their decision to do so is profoundly misguided,” Congressman Jerry Nadler, one of the signatories, tweeted.
“This was not a situation where he was using his office to further and advance the interests of the United States,” Barb McQuade, a professor of law at the University of Michigan, told US news outlet MSNBC.
“He’s acting in his own self-interest about something that occurred in his private life 20 years earlier,” McQuade said.
Writer E Jean Carroll had accused Trump in a 2019 magazine article of sexually assaulting her in an upscale New York City department store.
Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, said on June 8 she was disturbed by the Biden administration’s decision to back Trump in the case. “It is horrific that Donald Trump raped E Jean Carroll in a New York City department store many years ago,” Kaplan told Politico.
.@TheJusticeDept should not spend taxpayer dollars to defend former President Trump from a defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll. Their decision to do so is profoundly misguided. pic.twitter.com/CkgrdvktGg
— Rep. Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) June 9, 2021
“It is truly shocking that the current Department of Justice would allow Donald Trump to get away with lying about it, thereby depriving our client of her day in court,” she said.
Asked about the allegation while he was president, Trump denied ever knowing Carroll and said her claim was a lie.
In a brief filed with a federal appeals court on June 7, Justice Department lawyers adopted the same legal position the department had asserted when Trump was president.
The Department of Justice argued it was not endorsing Trump’s conduct towards Carroll, though it asserted a law governing lawsuits against federal officials justified the government’s move to take over the former president’s defence.
“When members of the White House media asked then-President Trump to respond to Ms Carroll’s serious allegations of wrongdoing, their questions were posed to him in his capacity as president,” department lawyers wrote in new court brief.
“Elected public officials can – and often must – address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office.”