Attorney General William Barr says “the Westfall Act” is the reason the Department of Justice can take over President Donald Trump’s defense in a defamation lawsuit from a writer who accused him of rape.
Watch Barr’s remarks in the video player above.
“That is an act that provides that when tort cases, state tort cases are brought against government employees in the executive branch and in the legislative branch,” said Barr Wednesday while in Chicago.
“The tort was allegedly committed in the course of federal employment. The case can be certified for shifting to the federal courts, and the United States can be substituted as the responsible party.”
This comes after New York state courts turned down Trump’s request to delay E. Jean Carroll’s suit, Justice Department lawyers filed court papers aiming to shift the 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.
The move to intervene is in keeping with a Justice Department that time and again has advanced a broad vision of executive power and has moved to shield Trump from legal exposure, most notably by arguing that actions taken to choke off the Russia investigation fell within the scope of his constitutional authorities and were therefore permissible.
It also comes amid concerns that Barr has gone out of his way to intervene in other legal cases involving Trump or his allies. Barr tried to decrease the amount of prison time his office sought for Trump ally Roger Stone following a criminal trial where he was found guilty. (Stone’s sentence was later commuted by Trump.) Barr’s Justice Department has acted to dismiss its own case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, called the department’s argument “shocking.”