Hearing in Carroll-Trump Rape Case Spiked After DOJ Flouts Virus Protocols

This article features Government Accountability Project and was originally published here.

MANHATTAN (CN) — The defamation suit pitting President Donald Trump against a columnist he is accused of raping decades earlier hit a coronavirus-related snag Wednesday less than an hour before a court hearing.

Justice Department attorney William Kerwin Lane III had been traveling into Manhattan for the matter from Virginia. Because infection rates of Covid-19 are surging there, however, Virginia has been on New York’s list of restricted states since Oct. 13.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan concluded this afternoon that Lane’s legal duty to quarantine for two weeks was not grounds to order a continuance.

“The undersigned is not authorized to vary the existing restrictions on entry into the courthouse,” Kaplan wrote in a one-paragraph order that instructs the Justice Department to either deliver arguments by phone or let its legal briefings do the talking.

Lane chose the second option.

The U.S. government has every reason to tread quietly in E. Jean Carroll v. Donald J. Trump, a case that it wants to rebrand Carroll v. The United States of America.

Critics have described the Justice Department’s surprise intervention in the case as part of a pattern of the agency acting as Trump’s private law firm for matters far afield from the office that the president holds.

“There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote earlier this month in a 45-page legal brief. “That should not be a controversial proposition. Remarkably, however, the Justice Department seeks to prove it wrong.”

The attorney expressed disappointment today that the government chose to cancel long prescheduled oral arguments, adding that her columnist client, E. Jean Carroll, took the time to travel to court.

Judge Kaplan allowed her the opportunity to file additional briefings, before adjourning the proceedings.

After Carroll first stepped forward with allegations that Trump raped her in the dressing room of the department store Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s, the president responded with remarks as cutting as they were characteristic.

“I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type,” Trump said on June 24, 2019. “Number two, it never happened. It never happened.”

Trump denies having ever met Carroll, despite there being photographs showing otherwise, and depicts her accusations as part of a political conspiracy and a scheme to sell books.

That characterization led Carroll to sue Trump in his personal capacity later that year, calling the president’s denials slanderous. Trump has been pushing for the case’s postponement ever since in a combustible election season.

Since its inception, Carroll’s legal team has skewered what they describe as a pattern of delay tactics. In August, a judge blocked a motion to stay the trial and denied an earlier attempt to dismiss the complaint.

The Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit watchdog, noted that Trump has a history of attacking women who accuse him of sexual misconduct.

“Simply put, the defamatory comments Mr. Trump made about Ms. Carroll, as set forth in her state court complaint, are indistinguishable — in subject matter, tone, and wording — from the ones he made in 2016 about eight other women who, just like Ms. Carroll, had accused him of rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and generally louche, rude, misogynistic, and vulgar behavior,” the group wrote in an Oct. 5 friend-of-the-court brief.

Trump made those remarks as a private citizen in those cases, not as president, and the group also pointed in its memorandum to Attorney General William Barr’s remarks at a press conference conceding that the White House asked him to take over the case.

The Justice Department argues that allowing defamation lawsuits like Carroll’s to proceed will discourage presidents from responding to press inquiries about such allegations and become expensive and time-consuming.

Minutes after this afternoon’s hearing, Judge Kaplan dressed down the Justice Department for falsely claiming that the pandemic-related restrictions that kept their lawyer out of the courthouse were instituted “yesterday.”

“Contrary to the government’s suggestion, it appears that Virginia was added to the list of restricted states over a week ago,” Kaplan wrote.

Apparently flouting New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order requiring visitors from restricted states to quarantine for 14 days, Lane turned up at the courthouse Wednesday and was denied entry.

Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan did not respond to an email requesting comment. Neither did the Justice Department.