The Department of Justice: An independent political entity or the Commander in Chief’s personal attorney?

By Vaughn Ford-Plotkin, Forum Contributor

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is a long-standing legal body within the United States Government. The DOJ’s purpose is “[t]o enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States according to the law,” according to http://www.justice.gov. Legislation like the Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946 slimmed down that vague and broad interpretation to create a more defined purpose, but the DOJ’s power is still up for interpretation. The Attorney General is at the head of the DOJ and is known as the Government’s top law enforcement officer and lawyer. This information about the DOJ leads me to wonder, why is the DOJ currently acting as President Donald Trump’s private lawyer?

E. Jean Carroll, an American journalist and columnist, accused Trump of sexual assault in her 2019 book “What Do We Need Men For?” The alleged assault occurred in the mid-1990s. Trump said her accusation was false and defended himself against the claim by stating she’s “not my type.” Carroll then filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court for defamation after Trump stated she was not credible. In an unprecedented move, Attorney General William Barr subsequently decided that the DOJ would take over President Trump’s defense in the suit.

Trump has no legal ground to use the DOJ as his personal defense. He is taking advantage of the system in which he appoints the Attorney General, who is the “Boss” of the Federal Courts. The DOJ interjected and took over the Defense of this case after a state judge in New York denied any more delay by President Trump, which was an opening for Carroll’s lawyers to request a DNA sample from the President. This strategic move not only makes the outcome of the case very likely to be in the President’s favor, but it will also stop the public from learning of any evidence before the election. This move highlights the fact that it is purely a political move by the DOJ and more specifically, by Attorney General Barr.

This is where the issue stems from. Why should our tax money be used to defend the President from claims made against him that: 1) allegedly occurred while he was a private citizen, and 2) do not hold any direct interest to the United States’ well-being? The Attorney General uses the language in the Federal Tort Claims Act to explain his decision to take over the defense. The language in the Act says that a private citizen may file a claim against a government employee if the government employee was acting within the scope of their official duties. While the purpose of this act is to allow citizens to hold government employees liable for torts they may commit while working for the government, albeit in limited circumstances, Barr has grossly stretched this purpose in order to serve the purposes of this administration.

In an interview, Barr explained that Trump is covered under the Federal Tort Claims Act because “elected officials in our…representative democracy when they’re answering questions in office even about personal affairs, any defamation claim is subject to [the Federal Tort Claims Act].” The assertion that Trump was acting within his Presidential Duties when calling Carroll a liar is a stretch far beyond my imagination. This is an example of the President using his current power to absolve himself of any liability for actions he took for his own self-interest, rather than caring for the American people.

We should not be footing the bill for President Trump’s defense in this case because it creates new power for the President to avoid accountability for anything he may say or do by claiming that he was acting within his presidential duty at the time. This is a frightening trend in the way of the current administration. Their ideas of the rule of law lean more into a fascist ideology every day, where the leader is absolved of all wrongdoing.

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