Trump gives minutes-long testimony for E. Jean Carroll defamation trial

NEW YORK — A visibly angry Donald Trump took the witness stand in New York federal court Thursday, delivering a few minutes of testimony in a defamation damages trial against him before walking out of court in a huff, declaring, “This is not America.”

The former president’s much-anticipated testimony — in a civil trial brought by writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her — lasted about three minutes and did not offer much in the way of evidence, but the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination complained bitterly before and after testifying that the judge was being unfair to him.

The trial is meant to determine what, if any, additional damages he owes Carroll, who was awarded $5 million in a previous trial against Trump.

Coming on the heels of a resounding win in the New Hampshire primary this week, Thursday’s courthouse hearing highlighted the degree to which his legal troubles seem to have boosted, not hampered, his appeal to Republican voters. Trump also faces four separate criminal trials; he has denied wrongdoing in all cases.

Voting came up in court, too. Carroll’s team played a video deposition in which Trump called mail-in ballots “very dishonest” and said he didn’t know what happens to those ballots after they are mailed in. Watching himself say that on the screen, Trump turned to his lawyer in court and said, “It’s true.”

In that same deposition clip, Trump admitted that he sometimes votes by mail.

Trump employees in court Thursday included Walt Nauta, an aide and co-defendant in a federal classified documents indictment who was seen delivering a bottle of water to his boss, and Steven Cheung, a Trump spokesperson, who was removed from the proceeding when it was interrupted by his ringing phone.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan had repeatedly warned Trump lawyer Alina Habba that if the former president testified, the number of topics he could discuss would be severely limited, based in part on rules of evidence and the legal findings from the previous trial.

“I want to know everything he is going to say” before he gets on the stand, Kaplan said sternly. Habba was asked to give a trial run outside the presence of the jury of what the testimony would involve, which the judge said had to be questions and responses that would not allow Trump to opine on the underlying issues in the case.

As the lawyers discussed the boundary lines of testimony, Trump muttered loud enough for some observers in the courtroom to hear.

“I never met her. I’ve never seen her before,” Trump said from the defense table, noting that he didn’t attend the first trial. Those comments immediately earned the judge’s wrath.

“Mr. Trump, please keep your voice down,” the judge scolded him. Trump didn’t heed the warning, and Kaplan reprimanded him again quickly, saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, you’re interrupting these proceedings by talking loudly while your attorney is talking and that is not permitted.”

Trump and his lawyer wanted him to be able to tell the jury in his own words that he did not sexually assault Carroll in a department store in the 1990s. But that issue was already settled in the trial last year when a jury found that Trump had sexually abused and defamed Carroll. Kaplan said he would not allow Trump to repeat his denials on the witness stand.

When Habba told Kaplan that Trump has denied the sexual assault, Trump said angrily: “Still do.”

“Unbelievable,” Trump muttered to himself. At one point, as he stood in the well of the court, Trump could be heard complaining bitterly to his lawyers, saying, “He shouldn’t be able to do this. This is a separate trial.”

When it was time to stop reviewing matters with the judge and start testifying, Trump lumbered slowly to the witness stand, walking past the nine-member jury without looking at them.

He raised his right hand, swore to tell the truth and quickly angered the judge again.

Though Kaplan had warned Trump and his lawyer to keep his answers brief, Trump said he denied Carroll’s accusation when she first made them because “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.” Kaplan immediately ordered that statement stricken from the official record of the trial.

Trump was briefly cross-examined by Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, who conducted his 2022 deposition in the case.

As he left court, Trump muttered angrily, “This is not America,” a phrase he repeated, getting louder as he walked out of the room with a phalanx of lawyers.

The trial is scheduled to resume Friday and include closing statements.

Carroll, a former magazine columnist, accused Trump in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in the mid-1990s. Trump vehemently denied her allegations and has publicly assailed the writer, calling her mentally ill and accusing her of lying. She filed two lawsuits against Trump, accusing him of defamation in one case and sexual battery and defamation in another.

Carroll’s other lawsuit, accusing him of defaming her with his original denials, went to trial this month in a Manhattan courtroom.

This case, though, has a narrower focus than last year’s trial. Kaplan, who has overseen both trials involving Carroll’s lawsuits, ruled in September that the jury verdict in the first case demonstrated that Trump’s comments about Carroll were false. Instead of re-litigating the accusations, Kaplan said, this trial would deal with the damages question.

In an order before the trial got underway, Kaplan said Trump would not be allowed to offer “testimony, evidence, or argument” denying that he sexually assaulted Carroll. She testified during the trial last year that Trump violently attacked her during a chance encounter at Bergdorf Goodman, an upscale Manhattan department store, decades before he won the White House. Despite saying he would face her in court, Trump ultimately never attended that trial or testified.

Trump has shown a willingness to lash out in court against his adversaries. Closing statements were delivered this month in a separate civil case accusing Trump and his business of financial fraud. The former president launched into a courtroom monologue denigrating the case and its judge, who had sought — unsuccessfully — to impose restrictions on his remarks.

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