Attorney General William Barr seemed to reverse course Thursday by saying the American taxpayer would not be on the hook for any potential damages awarded in E. Jean Carrol’s lawsuit relating to her allegations of rape against President Trump.
“Press coverage around the country was wholly inaccurate yesterday in suggesting that this left the taxpayers on the hook for tortious conduct by government officers or employees,” Barr told reporters in Arizona. “In fact, it does not. Once the United States is substituted the case is dismissed, because the United States has not waived sovereign immunity in those cases. And so, the result is dismissal of the claim. Not that the taxpayers foot the bill.”
Barr made the remarks at a press conference in Phoenix on Thursday while also touting the successes of Operation Crystal Shield, a federal effort to combat crystal meth distribution nationwide.
The comments came after the Justice Department on Tuesday sought to intervene and defend Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a columnist who accused him of raping her in the 1990s.
Trump has denied the allegation from Carroll, who is suing him personally for defamation. The DOJ argued in new court filings that Trump was operating in his role as president when he denied Carroll’s allegations.
The court papers aim to shift the New York case into federal court and to substitute the U.S. for Trump as the defendant. That led to speculation that the federal government, rather than Trump himself, might have to pay damages if any are awarded.
During a press conference in Chicago a day earlier, Barr affirmed that the American taxpayer would be responsible for any damages in the case against the president, now being defended by the Department of Justice under the Westfall Act.
Asked by a Fox News journalist on Wednesday if the American taxpayer would be “on the hook,” Barr answered, “As they always are under Westfall, that’s the statute. That’s the statute.”
Also on Thursday, Barr gave a full throated criticism of universal ballots, saying universal ballots open the “floodgates to potential fraud and coercion and has always been recognized as creating those significant risks, and a bipartisan commission in 2005 pointed to the increased risk of fraud and coercion.”
Barr also claimed that voting in person reduces the chance of any fraud, voter intimidation, or the selling of votes.
“I would ask people to think about why we vote today the way we vote. Why do we have specific polling places that put your names on a list, you show up, you identify yourself, you go behind the curtain no one else is allowed to be with you and you cast your vote to assure secrecy of the ballot, and it’s those measures that have developed over the years because of precisely concerns of fraud and coercion,” he said.
Despite Barr’s comments, most voting rights expects, including at least one member of the Federal Election Commission, have consistently said that voting by mail is safe and secure.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.