Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Attorney General William Barr listens to US President Donald Trump speaks with officials on September 1, 2020. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Barr Slammed for Acting as 'Personal Henchman' of Trump as DOJ Moves to Take Over His Defense in Suit Filed by Rape Accuser

"By putting the DOJ to work defending him over conduct that has nothing to do with his official capacity, Trump has taken another giant step toward full-blown authoritarianism."

Jake Johnson

Democratic lawmakers and legal experts accused Attorney General William Barr of unethically acting as President Donald Trump's "personal henchman" after the Justice Department on Tuesday moved to take over the president's defense team in a defamation case brought by journalist and author E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s.

"Today's actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying."
—E. Jean Carroll

In a claim that baffled and alarmed observers, Justice Department lawyers said in new court filings that the federal government's intervention in the case is justified because Trump was acting in "within the scope" of his official capacity as president when he accused Carroll of lying about the rape.

Robbie Kaplan, Carroll's attorney, called the Justice Department's argument "shocking" in a statement late Tuesday, saying it "offends me as a lawyer, and offends me even more as a citizen."

As a result of a court decision last month, Kaplan noted, "Trump was soon going to be required to produce documents, provide a DNA sample, and sit for a deposition."

"Realizing that there was no valid basis to appeal that decision in New York courts, on the very day that he would have been required to appeal, Trump instead enlisted the U.S. Department of Justice to replace his private lawyers," Kaplan continued. "Trump's effort to wield the power of the U.S. government to evade responsibility for his private misconduct is without precedent, and shows even more starkly how far he is willing to go to prevent the truth from coming out."

Carroll echoed her lawyer in a statement of her own on Tuesday, saying, "Today's actions demonstrate that Trump will do everything possible, including using the full powers of the federal government, to block discovery from going forward in my case before the upcoming election to try to prevent a jury from ever deciding which one of us is lying."

The Justice Department cited the Federal Tort Claims Act in its push to replace Trump's private defense team with government lawyers and move the defamation lawsuit, filed last November, from state to federal court.

"Though the law gives employees of the federal government immunity from most defamation lawsuits," the New York Times reported, "legal experts said it has rarely, if ever, been used before to protect a president, especially for actions taken before he entered office."

Heidi Li Feldman, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote in a series of tweets late Tuesday that "by putting the DOJ to work defending him over conduct that has nothing to do with his official capacity, Trump has taken another giant step toward full-blown authoritarianism."

"Nothing in the official capacity of the presidency required Donald Trump to slur E. Jean Carroll. He may have thereby defamed her," Feldman added. "It is his personal responsibility to defend the suit, not the work of the U.S. government."

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called the Justice Department's intervention "outrageous and outright unacceptable."

"The Justice Department should serve the people, not a president," said Jayapal. "Yet Bill Barr continues to act not as the attorney general for the American people but as the personal henchman for Donald Trump."

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the date of a recent court ruling in E. Jean Carroll's case.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Biden's Student Debt Relief to Cost a Fraction of US Giveaways to the Megarich and Pentagon

"In contrast to President Trump and Republicans who gave giant corporations $2 trillion in tax breaks, President Biden delivered transformative middle-class relief," said two senators.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Climate Change Is the Asteroid,' Say Critics of NASA Earth Defense Mission

"The actual clear and present danger to humanity is of course Earth breakdown from burning fossil fuels," said one NASA climate scientist.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Nearly a Decade in Exile, Snowden Granted Russian Citizenship

While the whistleblower said "a little stability" would benefit his family, one digital rights advocate noted that "if the Biden administration dropped the charges against Snowden, Putin wouldn't be able to use him for a PR stunt."

Jessica Corbett ·


Peace Group Urges US and China to Halt 'Blatantly Provocative' Military Maneuvers

The co-chairs of the Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy called on American and Chinese leaders to "immediately take unilateral and bilateral steps to reduce the risk of an accidental or unintended clash."

Brett Wilkins ·


In 'Unprecedented Democratic Exercise,' Cubans Approve Inclusive Family Code

"This is a milestone in the advancement of democracy," said global grassroots coalition Progressive International. "Nowhere in the world has a family law been submitted for public consultation and subject to a referendum."

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo