The damages trial in writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation suit against Donald Trump resumes Monday, with the former president expected to attend — and possibly testify.
Carroll, who sued Trump for defaming her when he was president by calling her sexual abuse allegations against him “pure fiction” and a “hoax,” is expected to wrap up her case by Monday afternoon, paving the way for Trump’s defense case to start. He is listed as one of only two defense witnesses and has said he plans to testify.
If he does, it would lead to the unprecedented sight of a former president and the current leading Republican presidential candidate taking the witness stand the day before a crucial primary in New Hampshire. Similar scenes are expected to play out in the coming year, with Trump facing the prospect of up to four criminal trials and other court hearings as he vies to return to the White House.
The case is the second civil trial involving Carroll and Trump. The first took place last year after Carroll sued him, alleging he raped her in the dressing room of a New York City department store in 1996 and then defamed her by calling her accusations a financially motivated “con job” after he left the White House. The jury did not find Trump liable for rape but did find him liable for battery for sexually abusing her and defamation. It awarded Carroll $5 million in damages.
Trump is appealing the verdict.
Trump had said he was going to testify in that case, but he ultimately decided not to.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan used that jury’s verdict to find Trump liable for defaming Carroll in the current case, which centers on remarks Trump made about Carroll when he was president in 2019, when she first went public with her allegations. The jury is tasked with determining how much in damages Trump should pay Carroll for those remarks and the amount of punitive damages he should pay to deter him from continuing to defame her.
The liability finding restricts what Trump can say on the witness stand. Because it is established that Trump sexually abused and defamed Carroll, he cannot testify otherwise.
Trump has given no indication he plans to stick to those guidelines. Asked about his testimony before the trial started, Trump told reporters, “I’m going to explain I don’t know who the hell she is.”
Carroll’s attorneys had asked the judge to rein in Trump’s testimony ahead of time in case he tries to “sow chaos.” The judge has said the court “will take such measures as it finds appropriate to avoid circumvention of its rulings and of the law.”
Trump, 77, has already butted heads with Kaplan, 79, in the courtroom. During Carroll’s testimony Wednesday, her attorney complained that Trump was offering commentary to his lawyer that the jury could overhear. Kaplan then asked Trump to take “special care to keep his voice down.” Trump apparently did not do so — Carroll’s lawyer Shawn Crowley told Kaplan later that she could hear him calling her client’s claims a “con job” and a “witch hunt” when Carroll went back on the stand, and she said the jury could hear the remarks.
“Mr. Trump has the right to be present here. That right can be forfeited, and it can be forfeited if he is disruptive” and “if he disregards court orders,” Kaplan told Trump and his attorney after the jury had left the courtroom.
“Mr. Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial. I understand you are very eager for me to do that,” Kaplan said.
“I would love it. I would love it,” Trump responded.
“I know you would, because you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently. You just can’t,” Kaplan shot back. “Neither can you,” Trump said.
The jury will still hear sworn testimony from Trump even if he decides not to testify. Carroll’s attorneys have said in a court filing that they plan to play excerpts of his hourslong October 2022 videotaped deposition for the jury. In the deposition, parts of which were played at the last trial, Trump called Carroll’s claims a “big fat hoax” and insisted that “physically, she’s not my type.”
He was also shown an old picture of him and Carroll standing together at an event and mistook her for his ex-wife Marla Maples.
Besides the deposition, Carroll’s lawyers are expected to call Elle magazine editor-in-chief Roberta Myers to the stand to testify about Carroll’s reputation when she worked as an advice columnist at the magazine.
The other witness Trump’s team might call is Carol Martin, a former anchor at WCBS-TV in New York.
If Trump does take the stand, it would be the second time he has testified publicly in two months.
He was called as a witness in New York state court in November in state Attorney General Letitia James’ $250 million fraud suit against him and his company. During his one day on the stand, Trump called the case “unfair” and a “scam” while blasting James as a “political hack” and the judge presiding over the nonjury trial “very hostile.”
That judge, Arthur Engoron, is expected to issue a decision with his findings before the end of the month.
The last time Trump testified in front of a jury was in 2013.
In that instance, he was being sued for allegedly duping an 87-year-old woman in a condominium bait-and-switch at a Trump building in Chicago. The Associated Press described his testimony at the time as “sometimes prickly, sometimes boastful.”
The jury found in his favor.