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A defiant Trump is on display in the first week of E. Jean Carroll's defamation case

Trump held a press conference after leaving the second day of his defamation trial involving E. Jean Carroll.
Michael M. Santiago
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Trump held a press conference after leaving the second day of his defamation trial involving E. Jean Carroll.

Former President Donald Trump spent his week whiplashing between courtrooms and political rallies.

Fresh off a primary win in Iowa and just before voters in New Hampshire head to the polls Tuesday, the front-runner for the GOP nomination attended his defamation trial in New York. Writer E. Jean Carroll sued Trump in 2019, accusing him of ruining her reputation when he called her a liar and denied her accusations of sexual assault. Now a jury will decide how much money, if any, Trump owes Carroll in damages.

"I'm here because Donald Trump assaulted me and when I wrote about it, he lied," Carroll said earlier this week when testifying.

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Trump has been quick to defend himself, speaking at a rally last week in Iowa ahead of the trial, and on Thursday night before heading to New Hampshire, about the case.

"That's a nasty man, a nasty guy. He's a Trump-hating guy and it's obvious to everyone in the courtroom. It's a disgrace," Trump said of Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is presiding over the trial. And he added of Carroll: "This is a person who, until this happened, I had no idea who she was and nor could I care less. It's a rigged deal and a made-up fabricated story."

The trial this week kicked off with the selection of nine anonymous jurors and it is expected to wrap up next week.

It is one of several cases involving Trump, who is also awaiting a verdict in a civil trial that could result in him paying at least $250 million to New York state for his business practices, which have been deemed by a judge to be fraudulent. He could also be prohibited from doing business in the state where he made his name as a real estate mogul. In all, Trump faces 91 charges in federal and state trials, ranging from the ones in New York to those at the federal level related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

What this case is about

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In 2019, Carroll, an advice columnist and freelance writer, accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the '90s. The accusation, which was detailed in her book, was first previewed in a New York magazine article. After publication, Trump issued two statements in response to reporters, including one in which he outright denied her claim and said she was "not my type."

Carroll then sued Trump for defamation, arguing that his comments ruined her reputation as a trusted source in the media and resulted in a slew of insults and threatening messages, emails and comments to her social media accounts.

At the time, then-Trump-appointed Attorney General Bill Barr blocked the lawsuit, arguing that Trump's comments were made in his official capacity as president. This caused the lawsuit to be stuck in court for several years.

In 2022, Carroll sued Trump again, this time for sexual assault and for another instance of defamation. This went to trial in 2023 — after Trump left the White House — where a jury found Trump liable for both assault and defamation; Trump was ordered to pay Carroll $5 million.

Also in 2023, Biden's Justice Department reversed course and allowed the first lawsuit on defamation to move forward. In part because of the 2023 decision that had found Trump liable for assault, Judge Kaplan ruled that defamation also happened in 2019 and that Trump is also liable.

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Due to that ruling, the only thing this jury has to decide is how much money Trump owes Carroll, which could be higher than before.

E. Jean Carroll (C) and her attorney Roberta Kaplan leave Manhattan Federal Court on January 18, 2024 in New York City.
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E. Jean Carroll (center) and her attorney Roberta Kaplan leave Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday in New York City.

What testimony showed

Carroll herself was the first witness to take the stand — putting her face to face with Trump, who attended the first two days of the trial.

Carroll testified that she felt as if Trump calling her a liar "ended the world I had been living in."

While she used to receive hundreds of requests to her column email asking for advice, now she received fewer than 10 a month, she said. Instead, she said, she received threats and insults. Carroll's lawyer showed the jury several social media posts, messages and emails sent to Carroll in the days after Trump's statements.

"I sued to get my reputation back," Carroll said.

But Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba, argued that damages ought not be traced back to Trump himself. Habba also showed the jury several social media posts, but these were posted in the five-hour "gap" between Carroll's allegations being published and Trump making the comments he is being sued over.

Habba also focused on the praise and support Carroll received for her allegation and questioned the writer's motive for suing and for deleting threats sent to her email.

The jury also heard from Ashlee Humphries, a professor at Northwestern, who was hired by Carroll's legal team to calculate damages.

Humphries testified that she believed there was "severe" damage to Carroll's reputation as a journalist — a conclusion she came to after analyzing the reach of social media posts, news articles and TV broadcasts that included Trump's statements.

But Trump's lawyers looked to limit the association to damages by arguing that comments and public opinion cannot be exclusively attributed to Trump's two statements.

What comes next

The trial will resume Monday with continued testimony from the plaintiff's team. The jurors will likely hear from an editor at Elle, the magazine where Carroll once worked.

The defense will then bring up their witnesses, which may include Trump. Speaking on Thursday, the former president said he wanted to attend every day of the trial. He missed Thursday to attend his mother-in-law's funeral in Florida.

Posting to social media, Trump also indicated he will be spending much of his time campaigning in New Hampshire next week.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.