For Trump, Defaming His Rape Accuser Is Part of His Job

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President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base for a trip to Jupiter, Fla., to speak about the environment on Tuesday, September 8, 2020. (Evan Vucci / AP Photo)

Yesterday, on his last day to appeal a New York state court ruling ordering him to produce documents and a DNA sample as a defendant in an ongoing defamation suit, Donald Trump did the unthinkable: He fired his private attorneys, replaced them with Department of Justice lackeys, and argued that the statements and smears he made against the woman who sued him were done in his official capacity as president of the United States.

To break it down still further: Trump is saying that demeaning and lying about a woman who has credibly accused him of rape is part of his job as president, and therefore he cannot be sued over his statements. He’s making taxpayers foot the bill for this defense. There is now no meaningful distinction between Trump the person and the US government. Somewhere, King George III is wondering why we threw away his tea.

The defamation suit Trump is trying to dodge is the one filed by author E. Jean Carroll last fall. Carroll accused Trump of raping her in the mid-1990s. In response to the allegations, which Carroll published last summer, Trump went into the usual round of angry denials that we’ve seen after each of the 25 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct came forward. Trump called Carroll a liar and claimed that he had never met her.

There’s a photo of the two of them together in the ’80s, because if Donald Trump says he never met someone, you can almost bank on there being a photo of the two of them together.

Carroll sued Trump for defamation last November over his apparent lies about their meeting. Trump argued, as he always does, that a sitting president is entitled to civil immunity for his private behavior. That is the argument he lost in front of a New York court last month.

It was always obvious that Trump was going to lose. We knew he was going to lose because Bill Clinton lost on the same argument more than 20 years ago. Clinton argued that as a sitting president, he could not be sued by Paula Jones over his private conduct—in that case, alleged sexual harassment. Clinton v. Jones went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the court ruled unanimously that a sitting president had no such immunity.

After losing, however, President Clinton did not enlist the Department of Justice to substitute for his private defense lawyers. He did not ask US taxpayers to support his web of lies. And if he had asked the DOJ to run interference for him, I imagine Janet Reno would have told Slick Willy precisely where he could stick it.

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There is no law that allows Trump to use the Department of Justice in this way. It’s illegal in the same way it’s illegal for the president to claim the right to consummate any marriage that takes place within his realm. There’s no statute that says “droit du seigneur is prohibited in these lands,” because we don’t need one: It’s just not a power inherent to the office of the president of the United States. The presidency is an office whose powers are limited to those conferred in the Constitution, so unless the president can point to a specific constitutional grant, he does not have the authority.

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