NEW YORK – A woman who has accused President Donald Trump of raping her in the 1990s said she was stunned and speechless after the Justice Department on Wednesday turned down an opportunity to make oral arguments on whether Trump can substitute the United States for himself as the defendant in her defamation lawsuit.
E. Jean Carroll watched from a seat in the top row of a jury box as U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan gave a government lawyer a chance to argue by phone, after the lawyer who was supposed to argue in person was banned from the courthouse because he traveled from Virginia. New York requires visitors from Virginia to quarantine for 14 days.
William Lane, a Department of Justice civil division attorney, told the judge the government would rest on its papers, meaning it would rely solely on already submitted written arguments.
“I’m stunned, stunned, and actually speechless, which is unusual,” Carroll told reporters outside the courthouse.
Attorney Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for Carroll, said it was a “shocking scenario for the government to just, essentially surrender, and not even try to argue the case.”
Carroll’s lawyers offered to answer any questions the judge might have, but he did not ask any.
“Frankly, I’m astonished at what happened today. In decades of litigating in courtrooms throughout the country, I’ve never seen the Department of Justice decline to make an oral argument when all that it meant here would be having to argue by phone,” she told reporters.
A request for comment to the Justice Department wasn't immediately returned.
Carroll’s lawyers had already argued in their papers that Trump cannot claim he was acting in an official capacity when he made statements denying the encounter with Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room in midtown Manhattan.
Justice Department attorneys have said Trump had to respond in June 2019 to accusations Carroll made against him in a book because the claims related to his fitness for office.
Outside court, Roberta Kaplan told reporters that the position the government took was “pretty radical” and would free any federal official to defame anyone and then argue that the United States should be the defendant if it could concern a constituent.
The judge did not indicate when he will rule.
Carroll sued last year, saying defamatory attacks by Trump include assertions that Carroll had falsely accused other men of rape, that she lied about him to advance a secret political conspiracy and sell books and that he had never met her — even though they’d been photographed together. Her lawyers noted Trump also had said: “She’s not my type.”
Carroll was a 52-year-old media figure hosting an advice show when she says the encounter with Trump occurred sometime between the fall of 1995 and spring of 1996.
They recognized one another from each other's media exposure and Carroll was struck “by his boyish good looks,” according to her lawsuit.
When Trump asked for her help to get a gift for “a girl,” Carroll “was surprised but thrilled that Trump would want her advice” and the search eventually led to the store's lingerie section, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said they ended up together in a dressing room after teasing each other to try on a see-through lilac gray bodysuit. Once there, Trump closed the door, pushed her against a wall, bumped her head twice against a wall and pulled down her tights before raping her, the lawsuit said.
The Associated Press does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly.
Carroll said in a lawsuit originally filed in Manhattan state court that she remained silent during the 2016 presidential campaign in part because her mother, a respected Republican official in Indiana, was dying at the time and she didn't want to add to her pain.
She said the emergence of the #MeToo movement in late 2017 prompted her to go public with her own story as she advised other women in her advice column to be brave and to seek justice when they asked her how to respond to sexual assault and abuse.