Hearing in rape claim defamation case against Trump called off after DOJ lawyer barred from court over New York’s Covid restrictions

President Donald Trump rape accuser E. Jean Carroll and her lawyers arrive for her hearing at federal court during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the New York, October 21, 2020.

Carlo Allegri | Reuters

A Manhattan federal court hearing for a case that hinges on the allegation that President Donald Trump raped a writer more than two decades ago ended abruptly Wednesday, after a government lawyer was barred from the courthouse due to New York’s coronavirus rules.

Lawyers for the Department of Justice had planned to make oral arguments in person before Judge Lewis Kaplan to support their position that the DOJ should be allowed to intervene in E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against Trump.

But one of those lawyers was denied entry to the courthouse in lower Manhattan earlier in the day because he had traveled there from his home in Virginia.

Virginia is among a group of states whose residents must quarantine for 14 days if they travel to New York state, because of Covid-19 precautions.

DOJ lawyer William Lane told Judge Lewis Kaplan via a telephone hookup that DOJ would rest on its current written court filings in the case, instead of making oral arguments over the phone, or having a fellow prosecutor do so in person.

The case involves Carroll’s claim that Trump defamed her when he said she was lying about having been raped by him in a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s.

The DOJ last month said it wanted the case transferred to federal court from New York state court and wanted to substitute the U.S. government as the defendant in the case, replacing Trump.

The DOJ has said that it had certified that Trump “was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident out of which the claim arose.”

In other words, the DOJ argues that Trump was acting as president when he adamantly denied Carroll’s allegations and said she was motivated by money.

Carroll’s lawyers are opposing the DOJ’s request to swap out Trump as a defendant.

In a written filing shortly before the hearing, Lane’s fellow DOJ lawyer Stephen Terrell asked Kaplan for a postponement of the hearing because of one of the DOJ lawyers being blocked due to the coronavirus restrictions.

E. Jean Carroll sits alongside lawyers Joshua Matz and Marcella Coburn during a hearing in her defamation lawsuit against U.S. President Donald Trump at a courthouse in New York, October 21, 2020 in this courtroom sketch.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

The judge denied that request, and gave the DOJ three options for the hearing: Have Lane argue via telephone, have another lawyer make the arguments in person, or drop the planned hearing and rest their case on already submitted court filings.

Lane told Kaplan the DOJ was picking the third option.

Carroll was in the courtroom for the brief proceeding. Her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, said she was disappointed by the DOJ’s decision not to argue its position, given the fact that Carroll had traveled some distance to attend.

Attorney General William Barr has said that the White House asked the DOJ to intervene in the lawsuit.

Barr also has said that U.S. taxpayers — and not Trump — will be responsible for any monetary damages awarded Carroll, if she proves her claims against the president, and if a judge agrees to allow the Department of Justice to handle the case.

Carroll’s lawyer Kaplan blasted the DOJ in a statement.

“Today, the Court was scheduled to hear argument in a case against Donald Trump for slandering E. Jean Carroll after she revealed that he sexually assaulted her before taking office. The Justice Department has attempted to block this case at taxpayer expense by arguing that Trump was acting within the scope of his employment as President when he repeatedly defamed Carroll.”

“But when given an opportunity by Judge Kaplan to present oral argument, DOJ declined to do so —even after the judge told them that this would result in the waiver of their newly raised arguments (which is to say, most of their case). This is unquestionably a new low for DOJ, which should at least appear in open court to answer for the outrageous positions that it has taken here. 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 sued Trump for defamation in New York state court in Manhattan last November.

“Decades ago, the now President of the United States raped me. When I had the courage to speak out about the attack, he defamed my character, accused me of lying for personal gain, even insulted my appearance. No woman should have to face this,” Carroll said at the time.

“But this lawsuit is not only about me,” she said. “I am filing this on behalf of every woman who has ever been harassed, assaulted, silenced, or spoken up only to be shamed, fired, ridiculed and belittled.”

President Donald Trump arrives at Morristown municipal airport for a weekend at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, August 2, 2019.

Yuri Gripas | Reuters

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