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Trump briefly testifies in E. Jean Carroll defamation trial

Why Trump testified in defamation trial
Why Trump testified in E. Jean Carroll defamation trial 05:45

Former President Donald Trump took the stand in a New York courtroom for roughly four minutes on Thursday to defend himself in the defamation trial brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who alleges he sexually assaulted her in a dressing room in the 1990s.

The former president, who denies Carroll's claims, was called to testify by his own legal team. Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the trial and has already determined that Trump defamed Carroll, severely restricted what he could tell the court.

Sitting stone-faced in the witness box, Trump testified that he stood by his earlier deposition in the case, in which he denied having ever met Carroll. He replied "no" when his attorney Alina Habba asked if he had ever instructed anyone to hurt her.

Trump planned to testify earlier in the week, but the trial was delayed for several days after a COVID-19 scare. His brief testimony came two days after his victory in New Hampshire's presidential primary, which solidified his position as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

Former President Donald Trump waves as he departs for his defamation trial in New York on Jan. 25, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump waves as he departs for his defamation trial in New York on Jan. 25, 2024. ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Ahead of Trump's testimony, while the jury was outside the courtroom, Kaplan reiterated that Trump "in fact sexually abused" Carroll. His comment prompted the former president, who was seated at the defense table, to shake his head and audibly express his disgust.

While the judge was laying out the restrictions of his testimony, Carroll's attorney Shawn Crowley said Trump was already indicating that he would violate the rules.

"Mr. Trump said under his breath just behind us that he intends to say he doesn't know her and never met her," Crowley said.

Moments later, as Habba was speaking, her client loudly repeated the claim.

"I don't know who the woman is. I never met this woman," he said, causing the judge to reprimand him for interrupting.

The defense rested its case after Trump's testimony. As the GOP front-runner quickly left the courtroom, he could be heard saying, "It's not America. Not America. This is not America."

E. Jean Carroll's lawsuit

The Carroll lawsuit centers on defamatory statements Trump made denying the sexual assault and saying he never met her. Trump has already twice been found liable for defamation, once by Kaplan and once by a jury that also found he was liable for sexual abuse.

Carroll, a longtime advice columnist and journalist, said that in the mid-1990s, they bumped into each other in the high-end New York department store Bergdorf Goodman and walked through the store. Carroll said he had asked her for help choosing a present for a young woman, and Carroll said what started with fun banter turned into a nightmare when Trump attacked her in a dressing room.

Carroll has twice sued Trump over defamatory statements he made in 2019 and 2022. Trump has continuously and frequently denied her allegations, even on the day a federal jury awarded Carroll $5 million in May 2023. 

The jury in the current trial has been shown threats of murder and rape that Carroll has received since 2019 when she went public with her story, in the form of emails, texts and tweets, including one message that read: "I'm very sorry, my friend said he wants to kill you and I cannot stop him."

Trump's ongoing denials are an issue in the trial, where he has denounced the case and its outcome within earshot of the jury. Carroll's attorneys have said they want an award that will "make him stop."

Before Trump's testimony on Thursday, Carroll's lawyers called their final witness and wrapped their case. They presented several new pieces of evidence, including footage of a deposition Trump gave in a separate civil fraud case in which he bragged about having $400 million in cash and said his "brand" is worth billions of dollars.

Carroll's legal team showed some of his deposition in this case, when he insisted everything he has said about Carroll is true.

The proceedings Thursday occupied not only the courtroom where Trump testified, but much of two other overflow courtrooms.

Watching from one of the overflow rooms were at least three prosecutors for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office charged Trump with 34 felony charges of falsification of business records in April 2023. At least one of Trump's defense attorneys in the case was also present in the courtroom with Trump. He has entered a not guilty plea and denied all allegations in that case, which centers around reimbursements for a "hush money" payment to an adult film star days before the 2016 election.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected to begin Friday morning.

Fin Gómez contributed reporting.

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