Trump has denied the allegation from E. Jean Carroll, who is suing him personally for defamation. The DOJ argued in new court filings that Trump was operating in his role as president when he denied Carroll’s allegations.
“Because President Trump was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the plaintiff’s claim arose, the United States will file a motion to substitute itself for President Trump in this action for any claim for which the [ Federal Tort Claims Act] provides the exclusive remedy,” the DOJ filing on Tuesday said.
The court papers aim to shift the New York case into federal court and to substitute the U.S. for Trump as the defendant. That means the federal government, rather than Trump himself, might have to pay damages if any are awarded.
It will be up to a federal judge to decide whether to keep the case in federal court and to allow the U.S. to become the defendant. A telephone conference for the case has been scheduled for Sept. 30.
Justice Department lawyers argue that Trump was "acting within the scope of his office" when he denied Carroll's allegations, made last year, that he raped her in a New York luxury department store in the mid-1990s. She said his comments — including that she was "totally lying" to sell a memoir — besmirched her character and harmed her career.
An attorney for Carroll, Roberta Kaplan, slammed the move on Tuesday: “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 also released a statement 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 filing complicates, at least for the moment, Carroll's efforts to get a DNA sample from the president as potential evidence and to have him answer questions under oath.
"Numerous courts have recognized that elected officials act within the scope of their office or employment when speaking with the press, including with respect to personal matters," the DOJ attorneys wrote.
Her suit seeks damages and a retraction of Trump's statements.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.