(Bloomberg) -- The judge warned Donald Trump: no speeches, no interruptions, no challenge to the previous verdict. And then, at the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan on Thursday, he delivered exactly that.
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Less than 48 hours after Trump was declared the winner of the Republican primary in New Hampshire, the former president returned to a familiar venue in his split-screen campaign: a courtroom.
For less than 5 minutes, Trump took the stand in his own defense in the civil trial for E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against him, which stemmed from his denial of the writer’s accusation that he raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. Jurors must decide how much, if anything, Trump will pay her in damages.
Weeks before the trial, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan banned Trump from denying Carroll’s claim. That would mislead the jury, the judge said, because Trump had already been held liable for sexually abusing Carroll. Kaplan reminded Trump minutes before he took the stand and warned his legal team against turning his testimony into a campaign speech.
As Trump was sworn in, his lawyer Alina Habba asked the former president whether he agreed with answers he’d given in a prior deposition, a video of which had been played earlier for the jury. In that clip, Trump denied Carroll’s accusation and referred to her as “crazy.”
“100%, yes,” Trump said.
Habba asked if Trump denied Carroll’s accusation “to defend yourself,” referring to two statements he issued from the White House in June 2019 calling her a liar.
“Yes, I did, that’s exactly right,” Trump said. He said Carroll had made “something I think is a false accusation.”
Read More: Trump Barred From Denying Abuse at Carroll Defamation Trial
The former president was still fuming about the case Thursday night. “I don’t even know who this woman is — I have no idea who she is, or where she came from. This is ANOTHER SCAM…it’s a POLITICAL WITCH HUNT,” he said in a social media post.
Closing arguments in the defamation trial are set for Friday morning, and jurors will then begin deliberations. Trump canceled a fundraising event in Arizona for the state Republican party so he could attend the court proceedings.
In a twist, the Trump deposition played by Carroll’s lawyers on Thursday let the jury hear Trump’s outspoken and vehement denials — exactly the kind of testimony the judge said Trump couldn’t deliver on the stand. Before the jury was brought in to hear from Trump, Habba told the judge she was “frankly glad” Carroll’s team had introduced it as evidence.
When Trump was on the stand, Habba asked him if he’d ever asked anyone to “hurt Ms. Carroll.”
“No,” Trump said. “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and in fact the presidency.”
The judge spoke over Trump toward the end of his answer and struck most of his response from the record, telling jurors to ignore everything the former president said after his statement he was “trying to defend himself.”
Hemmed in by the judge’s restrictions, Habba finished her questioning a few minutes after it started. Carroll lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who isn’t related to the judge, breezed through an equally brief cross-examination, focused on getting Trump to confirm for the jury that he chose not to testify in the last trial with Carroll.
The testimony, however fleeting, was a remarkable glimpse of Trump under oath in front of a jury. His courtroom demeanor has become a subject of intense public interest as the former president faces the prospect of four criminal trials as he campaigns to return to the White House. Trump, not known for having a filter when he speaks, could choose to take the stand in any of them.
Trump was upset even before his testimony started. As Habba and the judge negotiated over what he could say, as it became clear he was being reined in, the former president spoke over his own lawyer to complain — a breach of etiquette in any courtroom. It was also a sign of how easily his testimony could go off the rails.
“I never met this woman,” Trump said while the judge was asking questions to his lawyer. “I don’t know who the woman is.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Trump,” Judge Kaplan said. “You are interrupting these proceedings by talking loudly while your counsel is talking and that is not permitted.”
Trump kept quiet after that.
Earlier in the day, Trump’s team called another witness: Carol Martin, a retired broadcaster and a close friend of Carroll’s.
Trump’s lawyers seized on searing text messages that Martin had sent to Carroll over the years. In one, after Carroll filed the first lawsuit, Martin wrote that her friend’s “narcissism has run amok.” In others, she referred to Carroll as a “drug addict” and likened her approach to the litigation to that of “Santa at the Christmas parade.”
To Trump’s team, this was evidence that Carroll has used the litigation to seek publicity and book sales, a claim that Trump has repeatedly surfaced in social-media posts.
On cross-examination, Martin testified that her messages were hyperbole and that she regretted them.
“I am not suspicious of her motives,” Martin said of Carroll. “I am, again, guilty of misusing those words.”
Trump’s testimony was a stark contrast to his time on the witness stand in November in New York state’s $370 million civil fraud trial against him. In that case, Trump ignored repeated demands by Justice Arthur Engoron that he stop making “speeches” on the stand. Trump offered long, rambling answers criticizing the case as well as the judge, in testimony that lasted about four hours.
In the Carroll testimony Thursday, Trump shook his head as he left the courtroom around 2:30 p.m.
“This is not America,” Trump said, jutting out his jaw and narrowing his eyes. “Not America! This is not America.”
(Updates with Trump comment, closing arguments planned for Friday.)
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