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Justice Department moves to defend Trump in rape accuser's defamation suit

The Department of Justice on Tuesday made the unprecedented decision to take over the president's defense in a defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll, a columnist who last year accused Mr. Trump of sexually assaulting her over two decades ago. Carroll is suing Mr. Trump in his personal capacity, and he was previously represented by private attorneys.

The sudden intervention by the Justice Department comes a month after a judge denied a request to stay the litigation, which meant Mr. Trump may have to produce documents and a DNA sample and sit for depositions in the lead up to the November election. 

For now, the case will be removed from New York State Supreme court and moved into the Southern District of New York where a federal judge will decide whether the DOJ can step in on Mr. Trump's behalf. 

In a statement posted on Carroll's Twitter account, her attorney Roberta Kaplan said that "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."

The government is justifying the decision to involve the DOJ by claiming that the president is protected by The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), a law that essentially shields federal employees from civil litigation, because he "was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose."

"The claim asserts defamation based on a written statement issued to the press and two statements the President made in interviews in June 2019 in which the President vehemently denied accusations made in Plaintiff's then-forthcoming book," the DOJ said in a court filing. "The President explained that these accusations were false and that the incident she alleged never happened."

Kaplan called the government's position "shocking." 

A senior administration official also told CBS News that the Justice Department's decision was in line with the precedent under the FTCA because the president was a federal employee at the time of his comments denying Carroll's allegations. 

In June 2019, Carroll claimed that Mr. Trump sexually assaulted her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman in late 1995 or early 1996.

Mr. Trump responded to the accusations on several occasions, as noted in her lawsuit. "I have no idea who she is. What she did is—it's terrible, what's going on. So it's a total false accusation and I don't know anything about her. And she's made this charge against others," he said on June 22, 2019. "And, you know, people have to be careful because they're playing with very dangerous territory. And when they do that—and it's happening more and more."

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said she is looking into a request for comment from CBS.

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