Column: William Barr is trying to make Trump’s misogyny officially ‘presidential’

E. Jean Carroll’s account of the time Donald Trump allegedly raped her in a department store in the 1990s is highly specific and amply corroborated.

It’s also harrowing.

In her recent book, Carroll recounts her story with clinical precision. It happened in a department store, in Manhattan, in the lingerie section. She says he pinned her against the wall of a dressing room with his shoulder. She says he manipulated her clothing and her body, until she was able to knee him hard and run like hell.

The logistics check out. The department store was laid out the way Carroll remembers it. The timing adds up. And two of her friends say she told them about the alleged rape contemporaneously.

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President Trump denies it all, claiming he has never even met Carroll, just as he has denied credible charges of sexual misconduct made by at least 21 other women.

Not to shock you, but I think he’s lying.

A 1987 photo shows Trump and Carroll together. And as has been made painfully clear — this week alone it was corroborated in books by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and journalists Tony Schwartz and Bob Woodward — Trump is above all a liar. He lies about his taxes, his money, his accomplishments, the coronavirus pandemic. According to the latest tally in the Washington Post, Trump has lied or distorted the truth on average 23 times a day since he has been in office.

And yet Trump wants us to believe that it’s Carroll who is “totally lying.”

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When the president denied Carroll’s allegations in June 2019, he also took potshots at her appearance and reputation from his bully pulpit — including his revolting defense that Carroll is “not my type.” Carroll was forthwith fired from Elle, where she’d been a columnist for 26 years.

In November, Carroll sued Trump for defamation, seeking punitive damages for injury done to her reputation and her career. As part of the suit, she requested a DNA sample from Trump to compare with DNA found on the coat dress she was wearing at the department store.

Trump has had his lawyers go through the usual bully moves to crush the litigation. They refused to hand over a DNA sample. They told various judges and courts that the lawsuit should be delayed or thrown out for jurisdictional reasons. The courts said no.

Finally, the Trump team seemed to be licked. The case was moving forward.

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And then on Tuesday Bill Barr stepped in. The U.S. attorney general, who long ago forfeited his own reputation to play Trump’s personal fixer, wrenched the case out of state court and made it federal, edging out Trump’s private defense lawyers and replacing them with the Justice Department itself, and asserting that the government, not Trump, was the defendant.

For now at least, the case that was known as E. Jean Carroll vs. Donald J. Trump can be docketed as E. Jean Carroll vs. the United States of America.

This is a Hail Mary move by Barr to at least delay Carroll’s case until after the election. But if Barr fully succeeds in converting this to a federal case, the lawsuit might disappear entirely, as no one can sue the United States of America for defamation.

In the meantime, Barr has essentially conflated the whole country — all of us citizens and taxpayers — with the president and his sordid private debauchery. We the people have unwittingly become surrogates for a known misogynist, with a florid history of sexual impropriety, when he smeared a journalist because she had the temerity to speak up.

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Bigfooting Trump’s defense in the Carroll case is just the latest phase of a Barr gaslighting operation that’s meant to persuade people that the state is Trump.

In the words of the Justice Department motion, Trump’s demeaning of Carroll was “within his scope of office as president.” In other words, the harassment of women has become presidential. Or as Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern put it in Slate this week, “The stuff that once horrified you in the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes four years ago? Now those kinds of comments could just be considered ‘presidential acts.’”

The Republicans used to claim they could separate Trump the president, a tax-cutting deregulator who appoints the right judges, from Trump the man, who boasted about committing sexual assault, joked about dating his own daughter, evidently paid hush money to a porn actress and made a mockery of his marriage vows.

But if Trump was acting as president when he trashed Carroll, Trump the man can’t be distinguished from Trump the president. Those Republicans have no theory left to hide behind.

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Barr’s move hit American feminists like a punch in the gut. Sickening. And it should hit all Americans that way.

When Carroll first brought her defamation case, she said, “The lawsuit is for all women who have been harassed, who cannot speak up and don’t have the money to sue.”

“I am speaking out now for the women who have spoken out and have met their doom. Sometimes you speak out against a man in power and you lose your job.”

That’s right. As much as Barr might want to reverse things, if Carroll is telling the truth, her side, not the president’s, is we the people. Trump’s mendacity and vulgarity have defamed the United States of America for too long. It’s Carroll, with her courage and honesty, who has stepped up to defend us.

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