(Bloomberg) -- Fresh off his victory in the Iowa Republican caucuses, Donald Trump spent much of his day at the next high-stakes trial of his packed legal calendar — this time in a defamation suit by E. Jean Carroll, the writer who won a related sexual-abuse case against him last year.
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US District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the trial, has already held Trump liable for defaming Carroll by calling her a liar, leaving it for a jury to decide how much damages he must pay the former Elle magazine columnist. Trump on Tuesday observed for several hours as a jury of seven men and two women was selected, but he left to travel to New Hampshire for a campaign event before opening statements.
Shawn Crowley, a lawyer for Carroll, told the jury that Trump “has continued to lie and attack her character” while campaigning, even though the jury in the earlier trial determined unanimously that Carroll wasn’t a liar and Trump knew it. The former president even posted false comments about Carroll from the courtroom earlier in the day, the lawyer said.
“He has not stopped, so at the end of this trial it will be your job to decide how much money he has to pay to get him to stop defaming her,” Crowley said, adding that the amount should be “significant” because the harm to Carroll has been severe and Trump is a “self proclaimed billionaire.”
The trial is yet another opportunity for Trump to use a court appearance to promote his 2024 presidential campaign. The Iowa victory cemented Trump’s status as the clear Republican frontrunner in the race, even as he faces 91 felony counts in four unrelated criminal cases, plus a looming verdict in New York state’s $370 million civil fraud case against him.
Carroll went public in 2019 with an explosive allegation that then-President Trump had raped her decades earlier in a dressing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan. She sued him for defamation after he issued statements from the White House accusing her of fabricating the attack to sell a book and saying she wasn’t his “type.”
Minutes before jury selection started, with Trump and Carroll sitting quietly next to their lawyers, the judge issued a stern warning against either party attempting to communicate directly or indirectly with prospective jurors, whose names are being kept secret to prevent any harassment.
In her opening statement, Trump lawyer Alina Habba attacked Carroll’s character and motives, suggesting the writer’s “career was dwindling” when she decided to accuse Trump of sexually assaulting her decades earlier. Habba argued Trump was only defending himself from Carroll’s accusations and told jurors the writer was “enjoying the attention.”
“Here, she’s gained more fame, more notoriety than she’s ever dreamed of,” Habba said. “Here, she is looking for you to give her a windfall because some people on social media said mean things to her.”
Carroll is seeking at least $12 million in compensation for damage to her reputation, plus unspecified punitive damages that can easily soar in such cases.
The trial will resume on Wednesday with testimony from Carroll and other witnesses. The trial is expected to last until Jan. 22 at the latest.
Before potential jurors were brought into the courtroom, Habba sparred with the judge about several recent rulings, including one denying Trump’s request to delay the trial so he can attend his mother-in-law’s funeral on Friday, which Habba said was “completely unfair.”
“When a ruling is made, that is the end of the argument, not the beginning,” Kaplan said, adding that he’d extend the trial by a day next week if necessary.
Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan, who isn’t related to the judge, had expressed concern in recent days that Trump would attempt to turn the defamation trial into a “circus,” even if he doesn’t testify. Trump’s lawyers said in recent court filings that he is eager to take the witness stand to give testimony about what he believes happened.
Just last week, Trump attended closing arguments in the New York state civil fraud case, sparring with the judge and then declaring the case “election interference” in a fiery press conference.
In her letter last week, Carroll’s attorney urged the judge to warn Trump about his conduct in court to prevent any outbursts or statements that could improperly sway the jury. The lawyer suggested the judge be prepared to hold Trump or his lawyers in contempt of court or issue “punitive fines and monetary sanctions” if they get out of line.
On Tuesday, the judge told jurors they should use fake names when discussing the case with each other and aren’t permitted to disclose their role to anyone, including family members. That’s the result of an earlier ruling by Kaplan, who found that Trump’s habit of calling for protests against his detractors warrants the rare use of an anonymous jury to prevent “harassment or worse” by the former president’s supporters.
Carroll won a separate sexual abuse and defamation lawsuit against Trump last year, when a different Manhattan federal jury held him liable for assaulting Carroll and defaming her in remarks he made after leaving the White House. The jury in that case awarded Carroll $5 million in damages. Trump has appealed.
The verdict the jury returned in favor of Carroll last May found Trump liable for sexual abuse but not rape as technically defined under New York law. Trump has since publicly claimed that verdict shows that he didn’t rape Carroll, and his lawyers hoped to argue that before the jury at the second trial. The judge disagreed.
In the new trial, Trump’s defense will be hampered by the judge’s decision to bar the former president and his legal team from attempting to argue that he didn’t assault Carroll. The judge said the issue had already been answered in the earlier trial, and that such arguments had no bearing on how much he should pay Carroll.
“Consequently, the fact that Mr. Trump sexually abused — indeed raped — Ms. Carroll has been conclusively established, and is binding in this case,” the judge said.
Habba said in the letter to the court over the weekend that Carroll’s request was “nothing more than another desperate attempt to pigeonhole President Trump’s defense and to prevent his legal team from preparing for the upcoming trial.”
Trump, who continues to deny attacking Carroll, claims her reputation was improved rather than harmed when he denied her allegations.
The trial is going ahead after a federal appeals court shot down Trump’s last-ditch effort to delay it on his claim of “absolute presidential immunity.” Trump argued he was immune from Carroll’s suit because it stemmed from actions he took when he was president, but the appeals court ruled he effectively waived that defense by failing to raise it on time.
(Updates with opening statements in defamation trial.)
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