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Trump back in court for second defamation trial after Iowa victory

Published 01/16/2024, 06:03 AM
Updated 01/16/2024, 06:37 PM
© Reuters. E. Jean Carroll, former U.S. President Donald Trump rape accuser, arrives at Manhattan Federal Court for the continuation of the civil case, in New York City, U.S., May 9, 2023. REUTERS/David 'Dee' Delgado/ File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel and Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fresh off a campaign victory in Iowa, Donald Trump sat in a New York courtroom on Tuesday to defend himself for a second time against charges that he defamed writer E. Jean Carroll after she accused him of raping her decades ago.

Trump watched from the defendant's table as Carroll's lawyer told a jury that the then-U.S. president made her life miserable when she went public in 2019 with her story that he had attacked her in a department store dressing room in Manhattan.

"He used the world's biggest microphone to attack Ms. Carroll, to humiliate her, and to destroy her reputation," lawyer Shawn Crowley said.

Carroll, 80, is seeking at least $10 million in damages in a civil case that will put the allegations of sexual assault back in the headlines while Trump pursues the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Jurors will only consider how much Trump should pay Carroll in damages, not whether the alleged assault took place or whether Trump lied about it afterward.

Crowley said Trump's "horrible" lies unleashed a torrent of abuse from his followers, and wrecked her sense of safety.

"As he's campaigning for president of the United States, Donald Trump continues to lie about Ms. Carroll," Crowley said.

Trump's lawyer Alina Habba countered that Carroll was "basking in the limelight" in the years since she released her memoir and accused Trump of rape.

"She is looking for you to give her a windfall because some people on social media said mean things about her," Habba said.

Trump, 77, has said he wants to testify.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan has barred him from arguing that he did not defame or sexually assault Carroll or that she made up her account.

Nevertheless, Trump accused Carroll on social media of lying as court proceedings got underway on Tuesday morning.

Shortly after the court adjourned for the day, Trump accused Kaplan of being politically biased against him, echoing complaints he has made against judges overseeing his other cases.

Trump could spend much of this year shuttling between campaign rallies and courtrooms, as he seeks to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

He won the first state contest in Iowa on Monday by a wide margin, and opinion polls show him leading in the next contest in New Hampshire a week from today.

"I should be in New Hampshire, campaigning and fighting for our Country, and I will be later today, but for now I had to spend time in a Federal Courthouse with a Trump Hating, Radical Left Judge," Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform after the court adjourned for the day.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in four criminal cases that could potentially land him in prison before the November presidential election, including two that accuse him of trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden. He also is a defendant in at least two other civil cases.

Kaplan said he expects the trial to last three to five days.

SECOND TRIAL

Trump's high profile was apparent as prospective jurors were screened for the case. Many acknowledged they were familiar with Trump's various legal troubles, though none said they knew the details of the first defamation trial.

One said she used to work for his daughter Ivanka. She was not chosen for the jury.

Jurors' identities are being kept confidential.

Trump has already lost one defamation case against Carroll.

A jury last May ordered Trump to pay the former Elle magazine columnist $5 million for having sexually abused her during the encounter, and defaming her in 2022 by denying that it happened. Trump skipped that trial.

Trump is appealing the $5 million award, and could appeal any award at the second trial. Appeals could take years.

In both cases, Trump has said he did not know Carroll and that she invented their encounter to sell her memoir.

Kaplan has barred Trump from suggesting he did not rape Carroll, as New York's penal law defines the term, because the first jury did not find that Trump committed rape. Kaplan has ruled that Carroll's rape claim was "substantially true."

Trump also cannot discuss DNA evidence or Carroll's sexual activities, or suggest that Democrats are bankrolling her case.

As at the first trial, jurors will be able to see the 2005 "Access Hollywood" video where Trump graphically described the ability of famous people like himself to have sexual relations with beautiful women.

© Reuters. Former U.S. President Donald Trump, E. Jean Carroll and their lawyers stand for the jury as they attend jury selection in the second civil trial after Carroll accused Trump of raping her decades ago, at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, U.S., January 16, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.  REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

Kaplan has said the video could offer "useful insight into Mr. Trump's state of mind" toward Carroll.

On social media, Trump accused Kaplan of being "biased," echoing attacks he has made on judges overseeing some of his other cases.

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