The Justice Department is asking to take on President Donald Trump's defense in a defamation lawsuit from a writer who accused him of rape, and federal prosecutors on Tuesday asked a court to allow a move that the American people can do for any money they get could, put on the hook, could be awarded.
After the New York State Courts denied Trump's motion to defer E. Jean Carroll's lawsuit, Justice Department attorneys filed court records to move the case to federal court and replace Trump with the US defendant. That means the federal government, and not Trump himself, may have to pay damages if any are awarded.
The move to intervene is in line with a Justice Department that has consistently advanced a comprehensive vision of executive power and protected Trump from legal exposure, particularly by arguing that measures to contain the Russia investigation were and are within the purview of its constitutional agencies therefore permissible.
There are also concerns that Attorney General William Barr has gone to great lengths to intervene in other legal cases involving Trump or his allies. Barr sought to shorten the term his office was seeking for Trump's ally, Roger Stone, after he opened a criminal case in which he was found guilty. (Stone's ruling was later overturned by Trump.) Barr's Justice Department acted to dismiss his own case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Carroll's attorney Roberta Kaplan described the department's argument as "shocking".
"It offends me as a lawyer and even more so as a citizen," she said in a statement.
Carroll said developments showed "Trump will do anything, including using the full powers of the federal government" to try to stop the case.
And in a tweet to Trump, Carroll wrote, “Sir, me and my lawyer Robbie Kaplan are ready! So is every woman who has ever been silenced! So is every American citizen trampled by Bill Barr and the DOJ! BRING IT! "
The filing complicates Carroll's efforts, at least for now, to obtain a DNA sample from the President as potential evidence and have him answer questions under oath.
Justice Department attorneys argue that Trump "acted within the scope of his duties" when he denied Carroll's allegations that he raped her in a luxury New York department store in the mid-1990s. She says his comments – including that she "totally lied" to sell a memoir – it tarnished her character and damaged her career.
"Numerous courts have recognized that elected officials act in the context of their office or employment in discussions with the press, including on personal matters," wrote the lawyers of the judiciary.
It is up to a federal judge to decide whether to move the case from the state court to a federal court and whether the US can become a defendant.
Carroll is trying to get a DNA sample from Trump to see if it matches the as-yet-unidentified male genetic material found on a dress she wore during the alleged attack and only again at a photoshoot last year has attracted.
Her suit seeks damages and a withdrawal of Trump's statements.
The Associated Press does not identify anyone who claims to have been sexually assaulted unless they report publicly.
Associate press writer Colleen Long contributed to this Washington report.