A federal jury in New York found Donald Trump liable for sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll and then defaming her by calling her a liar, the first verdict against him in a string of legal cases that threaten to erupt during the 2024 presidential campaign.
The panel of six men and three women returned the verdict on Tuesday in Manhattan after deliberating on the civil lawsuit for less than three hours. Carroll had accused Trump of attacking her in the dressing room of a Fifth Avenue department store in the 1990s and then harming her reputation by saying she made it up when she went public with her account in 2019. He must pay her $5 million in damages, $3 million of it for defamation.
The jury stopped short of finding Trump liable for rape, which has a technical definition under New York state law. Instead it found him responsible for sexual abuse and forcible touching, two of the three elements of Carroll’s battery claim.
Earlier, as the two sides gathered to learn the outcome, Carroll and her lawyers were chatting and smiling, perhaps aware that a fast verdict was likely to be one in their favor. Afterward the judge thanked the jurors and urged them not to identify themselves to the press, before dismissing them to be returned by a van to a secret location. He had ruled the jury should be anonymous to protect their privacy and safety.
The jurors filed past Carroll without looking at her as they left the courtroom.
‘Oh My God, Oh My God’
Carroll put her arms around her lawyers, Roberta Kaplan and Shawn Crowley, who flanked her. Trump attorney Joe Tacopina hugged Kaplan and shook Carroll’s hand.
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” Carroll said later in a conference room full of lawyers and supporters just outside the courtroom. In a statement after that she said the verdict was a watershed.
“I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back,” she said. “Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
Kaplan said in a statement that the verdict was an important step in tearing down a “wall of doubt and intimidation” facing victims of sexual assault.
Trump ‘Strong,’ Will Fight
The trial renewed attention on Trump’s fraught history with women as he embarks on another run for the White House. On his Truth Social platform, the former president called the verdict a political hit job.
“I have absolutely no idea who this woman is,” he said. “This verdict is a disgrace — a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time!”
Meanwhile early polls show Trump as the clear front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination — and his standing in surveys only improved after he was indicted in a criminal hush money case, as Republicans rallied behind him and his contention that the prosecution was politically motivated.
Tacopina said Trump would appeal Tuesday’s verdict and seek to reduce the damages.
“He’s strong,” he said on the steps of the courthouse when asked for his client’s reaction. He said Trump was “moving forward as he always does” and planning a town hall this week.
Tacopina referred to the Access Hollywood hot-mic recording, played for the jury, of Trump making unguarded remarks about groping women and getting away with it. The tape “should not have come into this case, and we’ve made many motions that create issues for appeal, and we’re going to employ them,” he told reporters, citing an unsuccessful request the defense made for a mistrial over what he said was US District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s bias against Trump.
He said the judge made several errors during the trial, including barring the mention of Carroll’s litigation financing from billionaire LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a major Democratic party donor.
Verdict a ‘Compromise’
Jamie White, a lawyer who has represented victims of sexual assault, including victims of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, said average damages for such cases are between $800,000 and $3 million.
“This verdict is a jury sending a message to Mr. Trump that they are holding him accountable for what he did to this woman, and $5 million sends that message,” White said. “Will it change Mr. Trump’s life? No. But it does send a message that we are not going to tolerate, not only sexually abusing someone, but defaming them after the fact.”
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani sees a compromise in the outcome.
“The split verdict on sexual battery and rape means the jury compromised to finish their deliberations after only a few hours, especially when they also had to award damages,” Rahmani said. “It’s most likely some jurors just didn’t believe that Trump raped Carroll.”
Because it was a civil rather than criminal case, Trump was never at risk of imprisonment over Carroll’s allegations. The standard of proof was also lower — the jury needed only to find that Trump was more likely liable than not, as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt.
Carroll, a former advice columnist for Elle magazine who also hosted a daily talk show, wrote in 2019 that Trump had raped her more than two decades earlier in a sixth-floor dressing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store. She sued him last year under a New York law that temporarily lifts the statute of limitations on such claims.
The former president says he has never assaulted anyone and maintains that Carroll made up her claim to undermine him politically and help sell her book. “It didn’t happen,” Trump said in a sworn video deposition played for the jury at the trial. He declined to testify in person and never appeared in the courtroom.
Trump’s alleged conduct with women is at the heart of the New York criminal case accusing him of trying to conceal a hush money payment to a porn star just ahead of the 2016 election. He overcame claims of sexual misconduct in both 2016 and 2020 to win his party’s nomination. In the 2020 election he lost support among suburban women, a deficit that contributed to his loss to Joe Biden.
Trump is also facing potential criminal charges over his alleged attempts to influence the 2020 election, his retention of highly classified documents after leaving the White House and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the US Capitol.
He denies wrongdoing and ascribes the probes and cases facing him to animus.
The trial in Carroll’s suit lasted eight days and featured testimony from almost a dozen witnesses, including the plaintiff herself, who provided a graphic account of the assault and withstood a withering cross-examination by Trump’s lawyer.
The jurors also heard from two of Carroll’s friends who testified that she told them, at the time, that she had been sexually assaulted. One friend suggested she go to the police, while the other said she should stay silent because Trump could ruin her. The jury also heard testimony from two former Bergdorf Goodman employees who said it wouldn’t have been unusual for the dressing room area to be unstaffed or have no customers in the evening.
Two other women, who in 2016 went public with claims that Trump had sexually assaulted them, testified to illustrate for the jury an alleged pattern of behavior.
In the October deposition played for the jury, Trump called Carroll a liar and accused her lawyer of being a political operative. He reasserted that Carroll wasn’t his “type,” although he mistook her in a photo for his ex-wife Marla Maples.
The jury heard the Access Hollywood tape several times.
“If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true,” Trump said of powerful men having their way with women. “Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.”
The case is Carroll v. Trump, 22-cv-10016, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Photo: Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in 2019. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Topics New York
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