DOJ Lawyer Blocked by Travel Ban in Trump Defamation Suit

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The Justice Department’s effort to get President Donald Trump out of a lawsuit by a woman who says he raped her two decades ago hit a snag: The government’s lawyer wasn’t allowed into the courthouse.

The lawyer apparently missed the news that as a traveler from Virginia, a state with rising coronavirus rates, he wasn’t supposed to be visiting Manhattan. The judge nevertheless refused to delay Wednesday’s hearing on whether to let the U.S. be substituted for Trump as the defendant in the suit, a move that could result in the case being thrown out.

But when the time came, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan called off the hearing rather than listen to arguments only from the local lawyer for advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who is suing the president. Kaplan said he will rule based on written filings.

Afterward, the judge noted for the record that the ban on travelers from Virginia took effect a week ago -- not Tuesday, as the Justice Department lawyer indicated in an 11th-hour request to postpone the hearing.

Carroll’s lawyer slammed the Justice Department for declining to participate in oral arguments -- even after the judge gave the government’s lawyer the option to make arguments over the phone or let another lawyer talk in court.

“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,” Roberta Kaplan -- no relation to the judge -- said in an emailed statement.

Carroll went public last year with her claims that Trump assaulted her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman luxury department store in Manhattan in 1995 or 1996 after she bumped into him while shopping. Trump denied the allegations and called her a liar. That’s when Carroll sued Trump for defamation.

In trying to substitute the government as a defendant, the Justice Department has argued that Trump was doing his duty as president when he denied Carroll’s claims.

If the Justice Department is successful, the lawsuit would be dismissed because the government can’t be sued for defamation.

Joseph Cammarata, a lawyer who represented Paula Jones in a suit against former President Bill Clinton, says he thinks the government’s attempt to save Trump from the case will fail because his comments about Carroll went well beyond merely disputing her claims and he didn’t make the remarks as part of his legitimate duties as president.

“I think it will be rejected,” said Cammarata. “Trump has been trying all he can to avoid accountability in this case.”

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