A jury on Friday ordered former President Donald Trump to pay writer E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million for defaming her while in office in 2019 after she accused him of raping her in the 1990s. The jury reached a verdict in just under three hours, awarding $18.3 million in compensatory damages and $65 million in punitive damages.
The second trial in a pair of civil cases Carroll brought against Trump, it focused solely on what the former Elle columnist was owed. A judge had already ruled as defamatory Trump’s 2019 comments accusing her of lying and saying he couldn’t have assaulted her because “she’s not my type”. Carroll’s attorney had asked for $24 million in compensatory damages and “lots and lots of money” in punitive.
A federal jury last May found Trump liable for battery and defamation in the prior case, which centered on comments the former president made in 2022 calling Carroll’s claims that he sexually abused her a “con job” and “hoax.” The jury ordered him to pay her $5 million in damages in that case.
The latest trial had its share of drama, with U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan threatening to kick Trump out of the courtroom after the former president repeatedly ignored warnings to stop muttering comments such as “con job” and “witch hunt” in earshot of the jury.
“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,” the judge said.
“I would love it,” Trump replied.
“I know you would, because you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently. You just can’t,” Kaplan replied.
“Neither can you,” Trump said.
After briefly testifying on Thursday, the former president was heard saying “This is not America. Not America. This is not America,” under his breath as he walked out of the courtroom.
Trump positions himself as political victim
A legal expert told The New York Times that Trump probably assumed he would lose this case, so he set himself up to “claim that this is a political hit job.”
Trump appeared in court as jury selection began in the case, posting to Truth Social that he had to spend time in a courtroom instead of on the campaign trail because of “a Trump Hating, Radical Left Judge, on a case that is another politically biased WITCH HUNT.” Trump has repeatedly capitalized on his legal woes, after being criminally indicted four times since leaving office, with his best online fundraising days in the first half of last year coinciding with indictments and arraignments, NBC News reported.
This trial began the day after his sweeping victory in Iowa, underscoring “how tangled his political and legal calendars are this year”, The Washington Post noted.
Jurors’ identities shielded due to harassment concerns
Kaplan ordered jurors’ identities to be shielded in this case to prevent harassment, pointing to Trump’s “repeated public statements” concerning this case and others against him. Judges, law clerks, and other officials involved in Trump’s cases have been the target of numerous threats.
Legal analyst Lisa Rubin referred to Trump’s legal strategy as “playing victim while continuing to threaten and harass the real victim,” adding that Trump attended the trial “so prospective jurors can watch him shake his head no when Judge Kaplan notes Carroll has proven defamation and assault.”
Recent flurry of high-profile defamation cases are partly due to Trump
A flurry of high-profile defamation cases has hit the U.S. legal system in the past few years – due in part to Trump’s advocacy for looser libel laws, The Wall Street Journal reported, as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s 2019 suggestion “that the high court make it easier to sue news organizations.”
Former Trump campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Fox News were ordered to pay massive sums for spreading false claims about the 2020 presidential election while conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was ordered to pay almost a billion dollars for claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax.
Legal experts told NPR that while it’s typically difficult to win a defamation suit, the surge of false narratives around the 2020 election brought “a wave of credible cases.” These could have lasting effects by shaping a body of case law that enforces consequences for lying about elections or harassing those who run them, one expert told the outlet.