Many legal observers were surprised late Monday when, in its first filing since the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the Department of Justice continued to argue that former President Donald Trump is a government employee who cannot be held liable in a defamation lawsuit filed by a woman who has accused him of rape.

Roberta Kaplan of Kaplan Hecker & Fink, who represents plaintiff E. Jean Carroll, said she was shocked by the reply brief, which urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to reverse the October ruling of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, who rejected the federal government’s motion to substitute itself for Trump as the defendant in the suit.