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Donald Trump loses defamation trial, jury awards $5M to Carroll in sexual assault civil case

Donald Trump loses defamation trial, jury awards $5M to Carroll in sexual assault civil case

Jurors took less than 3 hours to hand down verdict after former president presented no defense

  • Despite claiming repeatedly in recent years that Carroll was 'not my type,' Trump mistook her in the photo for his second wife, Marla Maples.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comDespite claiming repeatedly in recent years that Carroll was 'not my type,' Trump mistook her in the photo for his second wife, Marla Maples.

A jury of New Yorkers found Donald Trump liable Tuesday in a stunning end to the former president's federal trial on civil claims that he raped writer E. Jean Carroll in 1996.

Carroll says she ran into Trump at Bergdorf Goodman in spring of 1996. The two recognized each other: Trump a real estate tycoon and tabloid figure, Carroll the author of a popular advice column in Elle magazine. Trump asked Carroll to help him pick out a gift for a woman, and the two made their way up the escalators. “I know: lingerie,” Carroll remembers Trump suggesting. 

In the intimates department, Trump tossed her a sheer bodysuit and told her to try it on, Carroll says. She threw it back, joking that he ought to wear it, and the two made their way toward the fitting room. Carroll testified that Trump then pushed her against the wall, began aggressively kissing her, pulled down her tights and shoved his fingers, then his penis, inside her. 

Carroll went public with her story in 2019 while Trump was still in office. She sued three years later, empowered by a new law in the Empire State that opened a small window for adult survivors of sexual assault to seek civil relief for claims otherwise barred by the statute of limitations. In addition to battery, she alleged defamation: pointing to Trump's denial of the allegations and ensuing digs at her appearance.

The jury found Trump liable on both counts, awarding Carroll $5 million in damages.

To determine the battery count, jurors had to find that it was more likely than not that Trump had either raped, sexually abused or forcibly touched Carroll. Defamation carried a higher bar: Rather than preponderance, Carroll was required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Trump’s October 2022 comments on his social media platform Truth Social, denying the rape and calling her story a “complete con job,” were both false and made with actual malice. 

Instructing the jury on Tuesday morning, less than three hours before they returned with a verdict, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan emphasized that the standard of reasonable doubt in criminal trials “does not apply at all in this case, and you should put it out of your mind.” 

Two other women who also accuse Trump of sexual assault testified at Carroll's trial, each describing a situation similar to Carroll’s, decades apart, where Trump interrupted friendly conversation by suddenly and forcefully kissing them. 

Jessica Leeds, a retired businesswoman, said Trump tried to put his hand up her skirt in what turned into a “tussle” on an airplane in 1979 or 1980. And Natasha Stoynoff, a journalist who used to work the “Trump beat” at People magazine, said Trump brought her to a room during a 2005 interview at Mar-a-Lago where he pushed her against a wall and began kissing her. Stoynoff testified that Trump then said to her, “You know we’re going to have an affair don’t you?” When she returned from the trip, Stoynoff asked to be taken off the beat. 

Both Leeds and Stoynoff decided to speak publicly in 2016 after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape circulated, featuring Trump in a hot-mic recording, boasting about going after women without their consent: “I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you've a star they let you do it. … You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy.”

Trump defended that take in the videotaped deposition shown to the jury. 

“Well historically that's true with stars,” Trump says in the recording. “If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.” 

Carroll’s attorney seized on those words in her summation Monday.

“Unfortunately or fortunately? He actually said the word 'fortunately' to describe stars grabbing women. Let that sink in for a minute,” said Roberta Kaplan. “Who would say 'fortunately' to describe the act of sexual assault?”

Jurors heard from Trump only in his deposition, since he did not testify, nor did he call any witnesses. The tape shows Trump calling Carroll a “wack job” and accusing her and her attorney of being political operatives. In a moment that Kaplan cast as being damning for Trump, he looked at a photo from an event in 1987 showing himself, Carroll, and their respective spouses at the time. Despite claiming repeatedly in recent years that Carroll was “not my type,” Trump mistook her in the photo for his second wife, Marla Maples. 

Trump agreed when Kaplan asked him at the deposition, “I take it the three women you’ve married are all your type?”

“E. Jean Carroll, a former cheerleader and Miss Indiana, was exactly Donald Trump’s type,” said Kaplan, of the firm Kaplan Hecker & Fink, in her closing argument.

During his summation Trump’s attorney gave jurors a rundown of what he argued was inconsistent or implausible about Carroll’s case, including her account that there were no sales associates in the high-end store known for its customer service; that she didn’t file a police report or write about the incident in her diary; and that she had both a political and financial motive to sell the story, which she detailed in a 2019 book “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal.” 

“They hope you will be blinded by the hatred for Donald Trump, if you feel that way,” said attorney Joseph Tacopina.

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