Kerri Kupec, the spokeswoman from the Department of Justice, cited a federal statute Tuesday night in response to criticism the department faced after it sought to intervene in a defamation suit against President Trump that was leveled by a columnist who accused him of raping her in the 1990s.
Kupec, who appeared on “Fox News @ Night” with Shannon Bream, said the Westfall Act allows the U.S. to be substituted as the defendant in the event that a federal government employee is “sued for actions taken while operating within the scope of his or her employment.”
She said that the president is considered an acting federal employee and noted that Trump responded to the allegations from the press while at the White House.
The DOJ argued in new court filings that Trump was operating in his role as president when he denied E. Jean Carroll’s allegations.
“And again, responding to inquires from the press omits a number of inquires. So, in other words, he was doing his job. So we at the Department of Justice have a duty to defend a federal officer doing his or her job. And that’s what we’re doing here,” she said.
Justice Department lawyers filed court papers on Tuesday seeking to shift the case into federal court and to substitute the U.S. for Trump as the defendant. The move came after a New York state court turned down Trump’s request to delay the suit.
Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, called the department’s argument “shocking.”
“It offends me as a lawyer and offends me even more as a citizen,” she said in a statement.
“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,” she said.
The Associated Press reported that the move means the federal government, rather than Trump himself, might have to pay damages if any are awarded.
Trump has denied the rape allegation from Carroll, who is suing him personally for defamation.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report