Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today? 

He succeeded in getting the Department of Justice to act as his personal defense lawyer.

One of the literally dozens of women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct is E. Jean Carroll, who said last year that Trump raped her in the mid-1990s. Trump responded by calling Carroll a liar, an attention-seeker, a victimizer of other women, and—in a Trumpian twist—too unattractive for him to consider sexually assaulting

Carroll then filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump, which has been proceeding ever since. Recently, Trump lost a bid to prevent it from going forward while he was in office.

Today, with his permission, the Department of Justice intervened, asking to have private citizen Donald Trump replaced as the defendant with the United States of America. DOJ lawyers argued, in effect, that when Trump called Carroll a pathological attention-seeker who was endangering women who had been assaulted, he was doing so in his official capacity as the President of the United States.

This kind of move is routine in the many lawsuits involving the executive branch, but using it to keep a president out of civil court for personal attacks on the character of a woman he's accused of raping is totally unprecedented.

Because the United States is immune from certain kinds of lawsuits, if the request were granted, that would end the case immediately. And, critically, it would shield Trump from having to give a deposition under oath, or allow Carroll's lawyers access to evidence related to the suit—all of which would have happened in the near future. (According to Carroll herself, that would have included a DNA sample.) Legal experts say Trump is not likely to succeed, but the inevitable appeals will work as a delay tactic.

Trump has often gotten confused about whether lawyers representing the government are also his own private defense lawyers, but with the appointment of William Barr, he seems to have succeeded in getting a "defense attorney general" who is willing to adopt his view of things.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • The president is not above the law, including civil law.
  • The presidency is a big job, but defaming the character of women in the hopes that people will think the president might not be a rapist after all is not part of the job description.