Biden Justice Department Seeks to Defend Trump in Suit Over Rape Denial

Federal law forbids government employees from being sued for defamation, meaning that if the move was successful, Ms. Carroll’s claim would be dismissed.

Mr. Barr’s move raised the question of whether Mr. Trump had in fact made his comments about Ms. Carroll as a government employee — a position that Ms. Carroll’s lawyers roundly rejected. “There is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted,” the lawyers said in a filing last year.

In October, the first federal judge to consider the case, Lewis A. Kaplan of Federal District Court in Manhattan, agreed with Ms. Carroll, blocking Mr. Barr’s move and deciding that the suit could continue against Mr. Trump in his private capacity. Mr. Trump’s comments concerned events that had occurred “several decades before he took office,” Judge Kaplan ruled, and had “no relationship to the official business of the United States.”

Before Mr. Trump left office, the Justice Department appealed Judge Kaplan’s ruling, and many legal observers predicted that a new attorney general, under Mr. Biden, would drop the Trump-era claims.

The brief filed on Monday night was the first time the Biden administration’s Justice Department, now led by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, weighed in on the issue. In the brief, department lawyers said that when Mr. Trump had denied raping Ms. Carroll, through the White House press office or in statements to reporters in the Oval Office and on the White House lawn, he was acting within the scope of his office.

“Elected public officials can — and often must — address allegations regarding personal wrongdoing that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,” the department lawyers argued, adding, “Officials do not step outside the bounds of their office simply because they are addressing questions regarding allegations about their personal lives.”

Ms. Carroll’s lead lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, reacting to the new filing, said that as “horrific” as the alleged rape was, it was “truly shocking that the current Department of Justice would allow Donald Trump to get away with lying about it.”

Ms. Carroll, in her own statement, said she was angry and offended.

“As women across the country are standing up and holding men accountable for assault,” she said, “the D.O.J. is trying to stop me from having that same right.”

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