A federal appeals court on Friday struggled with the Justice Department’s efforts to intervene on behalf of the former. President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism after ‘Rust’ shooting ‘surreal’ Haley hits stump in South Carolina Mary Trump archives to dismiss Trump’s lawsuit over NEW tax history MORE in a defamation case by author E. Jean Carroll, who claims he raped her in the 90s.
A three-judge panel of the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals questioned the arguments of the Biden administration and Trump’s personal lawyer that the former president’s comments about Carroll when she rejected her allegations were made in the context of his official appointment as government. official.
If the district court rules that Trump cannot be sued in his personal capacity, it would rule on Carroll’s case, which claims the former president went on a “defamation designed to crush her” when she announced her allegations in 2019.
Judge Denny Chin questioned whether Trump’s attacks on Carroll could be interpreted as statements he made in the context of his official duties.
“Who does he serve when he says something like ‘she’s not my type,'” asked Chin, an Obama nominee. “Does he serve the United States when he makes that statement?”
Alina Habba, one of Trump’s personal lawyers, replied that he was that the president was addressing a question from the press regarding his suitability to hold office.
“Absolutely,” said Habba. “Because he has to deal with the fact that this could not and would not have happened – he did not.”
Carroll filed his lawsuit against Trump in his personal capacity in 2019, arguing that the then president had slandered her by responding to her allegations, including during an interview with The Hill, in which Trump accused her of lying and said, “I will say it with great respect: No. 1, she’s not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, okay? “
In 2020, the Trump administration’s Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to intervene in the case, citing federal law that protects public officials from such lawsuits when they relate to conduct that occurs within the framework of their employment. The movement was widely criticized by Democrats and some legal experts as an abuse of the department’s resources to protect the president’s personal interests.
A district court judge dismissed the DOJ’s arguments, forcing the Trump administration to appeal. And earlier this year, the Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandThe Memo: Trump’s Justice Sees to Limit Abortion House Progress Calls Garland to Intervene in Former Environmental Lawyer Steven Donziger’s Case Garland Orders DOJ to Prioritize Violence on Planes MORE outraged Democrats in Congress as the DOJ continued its efforts to intervene on Trump’s behalf before the Second Circuit.
DOJ lawyer Mark Freeman argued on Friday that important institutional interests of the government are at stake in the case.
“The former president made harsh and offensive comments in response to the very serious allegations of sexual assault by Carroll,” Freeman said. “I’m not here to defend or justify these comments. I’m here because any president who faces a public indictment of this kind … would feel obligated to answer questions from the public, answer questions from the media. “
Chin asked, “Can a president or a congressman on the steps of the Capitol or the White House say anything they want and be protected as long as there is a journalist listening? Is that the government’s position?”
Freeman hesitated, saying the DOJ is not asking the court to come up with a categorical rule for what would be protected speech from a sitting president.
Joshua Matz, a lawyer representing Carroll, argued that if the court accepts the position put forward by the DOJ and Trump’s lawyers, it would send the message that senior government officials can escape responsibility for their actions.
“Denying a remedy in the name of the nation’s sovereign immunity is contrary to the maxim that no one is above the law,” Matz said. “And we just want to submit that a job in the White House is not a promise of an unlimited prerogative to brutalize victims of past offenses through personally motivated attacks. It’s not the law, no court has ever said it’s the law, and we would ask this court not to make it the law. “
At least one member of the panel, Judge Guido Calabresi, seemed inclined to refer the case to the federal district court in DC to conduct litigation on the question of whether Trump’s comments were protected under local law.
The judges also seemed skeptical of Habba’s arguments that Trump was forced to respond publicly because Carroll had gone on the offensive with his accusations.
“She went to the press. She was a public figure,” Habba said. “She went and published an excerpt for New York Magazine. Then she published a book. She published it. She was on the aggressor side.”
When the judges asked if there is any limit to the legal immunity that she believes covers the president’s speech, Habba replied. “My limit to you, Your Honor, in plain English would be an unprovoked attack on a citizen. That is not what happened here.”
Referring to local legislation covering the scope of employment issues, Calabresi asked, “Which DC case are you quoting me for saying that provocation is relevant at all?”
Habba replied that she could not cite a specific case, but the court should take note of the context in which Trump made his comments.
“Whether it goes to the suitability of the president who sat and ruled the country, and I think in this case, it did,” she said. “He had to address it. When the press … asks him a question about a story that would go to his suitability to sit – whether true or false – he has to answer.”
It is unclear when the panel can make a decision.