The Department of Justice opted to forego oral arguments at a hearing Wednesday afternoon on whether the United States will be allowed to take over for President Donald Trump as a defendant in E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit, after its lawyer was not able to appear in court due to quarantine restrictions.
The former Elle columnist, who appeared at the New York courthouse in person for the hearing, sued the president last year over his denial of her rape allegation. The president has denied ever meeting her.
The DOJ argued in a court filing last month that Trump was "acting within the scope of his office" at the time. Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, argued in a subsequent court filing this month that Trump is not covered by the Federal Tort Claims Act, which assumes liability for the wrongful acts of government employees.
Before the hearing started, the federal judge denied a request from the DOJ to delay Wednesday's proceedings. Stephen Terrell, the attorney set to make the government's case, traveled to New York from Virginia, which requires a 14-day quarantine and thus could not access the Manhattan courthouse, the DOJ argued.
In denying the postponement, the judge gave the DOJ three options: find a substitute attorney, make the argument by phone or submit paperwork and forego oral argument. The DOJ decided on the latter and to rely on its written submissions.
Kaplan noted Carroll had “traveled some distance” to attend the hearing and asked the judge for a chance to answer his questions.
In a statement following the hearing, Kaplan called the DOJ's pass on presenting oral arguments "a new low."
"[The DOJ] should at least appear in open court to answer for the outrageous positions that it has taken here," Kaplan said in the statement. "We remain confident that the Court will deny the Justice Department’s motion and we look forward to pursuing Ms. Carroll’s case in federal court.”
Carroll, who served as an advice columnist at Elle magazine for more than 20 years, accused Trump last year of sexually assaulting her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the 1990s. She is suing him for defamation, arguing he damaged her reputation and career by denying her story and claiming she took money from political opponents to fabricate it.
Carroll's lawsuit was on the verge of the evidentiary stage before the Justice Department intervened and moved the case into federal court. A state court had rejected the president's argument that he's immune from Carroll's accusations, clearing the way for him to sit for a deposition.
In a June 2019 interview with The Hill, the president said Carroll was "totally lying" about her accusation, adding, "I'll say it with great respect: No. 1, she's not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, OK?"
Carroll's lawsuit asserts this statement, as well as two others made during the same time period, were false and defamatory.