Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended the Justice Department’s involvement in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump brought by E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the mid-1990s.
In an exclusive interview with “NBC Nightly News,” Barr said that under federal law it is “not particularly unusual” for the Justice Department to step in when an elected government official is sued civilly in court.
“Yes, that’s the so-called Westfall statue, which says that if someone is an employee of the executive branch or the legislative, and they are sued for a state tort that occurred in the course of them working for the government — of their duties for the government — then they can have it certified to be moved to federal court, and the United States is then substituted as the party,” Barr said.
“This is done frequently. It’s been done for presidents. It’s been done for congressmen. The normal process was followed in this particular case you’re talking about,” he said.
Barr said that because the president was asked by the media about a personal matter and he responded to questions while in his personal capacity, he can invoke the federal law to have the Justice Department represent him and move the venue from state court to federal court.
“So this was perfectly legitimate under not only the statute but case law,” Barr said, adding that he did not personally sign off on the change.
The Justice Department filed court documents Tuesday seeking to represent Trump in a lawsuit brought by Carroll. Last year, Carroll, an advice columnist, accused Trump of sexually assaulting her at a Bergdorf Goodman store in New York City.
Trump has denied Carroll’s claim, saying “she’s not my type” and it “never happened.” Carroll filed a defamation suit against Trump in November after the president denied her allegation. Carroll’s attorneys also served notice to Trump’s legal team this year for Trump to submit a DNA sample for “analysis and comparison against unidentified male DNA” present on the dress she said she wore at the time of the alleged assault. A New York judge last month also denied Trump’s move to temporarily halt the suit.
“I think this illustrates why people should hold their fire and learn all the facts before they crucify this particular police officer,” Barr said.
He added, “There’s too much Monday morning quarterbacking that is frequently based on ignorance of the facts and not understanding certain basic rules about police training.”
Barr did not go into detail about the evidence he has seen, but he suggested that police often do the right things in confrontations with suspects.
Blake, who was shot in the back seven times, remains stable in a hospital, although his family’s attorneys and his father say he is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the shooting. Wisconsin’s attorney general said after the shooting that investigators found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard of the vehicle Blake was driving. But a lawyer for Blake’s family, Benjamin Crump, has said Blake did not have a knife in his hand. Crump said Blake was trying to get into his car to protect his sons, who were in the back seat.