Trump Testified in E. Jean Carroll Defamation Trial For Only a Few Minutes
Former President Donald J. Trump took the stand in his own defense on Thursday in the trial of E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against him, a civil case that grew out of her accusation that he raped her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.
His testimony, after days of anticipation, lasted less than five minutes.
“The defense calls President Donald Trump,” Alina Habba, his lead lawyer, told the court.
She asked the former president whether he stood by his remarks in a deposition in which he had called Ms. Carroll a liar.
“One hundred percent, yes,” Mr. Trump said. “She said something; I considered it a false accusation.”
Mr. Trump’s brief appearance came after much debate before the trial over whether the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, should ensure Mr. Trump did not stray from the sole issue in the case — damages. Ms. Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, had written to the judge, saying Trump might see a political benefit “from intentionally turning this trial into a circus.”
In the end, both sides seemed to attain at least part of their goals on Thursday: Mr. Trump answered the handful of questions his lawyer asked, and he did not embark on a rant about Ms. Carroll.
The only issue facing the nine-member jury considering the case is how much money, if any, Mr. Trump must pay Ms. Carroll in damages for defaming her in June 2019 after she first publicly accused him, in a book excerpt in New York magazine, of attacking her. At the time, Mr. Trump, who was still in office, called her accusation “totally false,” and said he had never met Ms. Carroll and that she was just trying to sell a book.
Ms. Carroll, 80, is seeking at least $10 million for harm she says was done to her reputation, as well as punitive damages in an effort to stop Mr. Trump, 77, from continuing to defame her, as he has in social media posts, on CNN, in news conferences and on the campaign trail.
She has already won a civil verdict in a trial last year over the dressing-room assault and a different defamation claim. In May, a jury awarded Ms. Carroll $5 million after finding Mr. Trump had sexually abused her and also had defamed her in a post on his Truth Social website in 2022. Judge Kaplan ruled that those findings applied in the current trial, and that in court, Mr. Trump could not contest Ms. Carroll’s version of events or claim that she fabricated her story.
The civil case is just part of a welter of legal troubles Mr. Trump faces, including four criminal indictments comprising 91 felony counts. As he seeks a return to the White House, Mr. Trump has been alternating campaign stops with court appearances, using his time in the courtroom as an opportunity to reach voters and complain that he has been mistreated.
In those appearances he has continued to lash out, again calling Ms. Carroll a liar and labeling Judge Kaplan “a Trump-hating guy.”
With Mr. Trump’s complaints have come vocal attacks on the judge and the plaintiff from the former president’s supporters. The jurors, under an order by Judge Kaplan, are anonymous, referred to only by number. The judge even counseled them not to divulge their identities to one another.
On Thursday morning, Mr. Trump was joined in court by several lawyers in addition to his civil trial team, including his legal adviser Boris Epshteyn and Susan R. Necheles, who is representing Trump in a criminal case in Manhattan. Mr. Epshteyn conferred quietly during the day with Ms. Necheles and he also passed notes to Ms. Habba as she questioned a witness.
During the morning, Ms. Carroll’s lawyers played for the jury an excerpt from a video deposition Mr. Trump gave in another case against him: the civil fraud lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general. In the recording, Mr. Trump discusses the value of his properties and estimates that his brand alone is worth “maybe $10 billion.”
The recording could help demonstrate to jurors Mr. Trump’s assessment of his wealth, which could prove advantageous when Ms. Carroll’s lawyers ask the jury to impose sizable punitive damages.
Early in the afternoon, it was time for the former president to testify in his own defense, as he had promised for days. Mr. Trump has said he regretted not appearing in the trial last spring; he has said that his lawyer at the time advised him not to attend.
His testimony came only after Judge Kaplan quizzed Ms. Habba, out of the jury’s presence, about what the former president would say — an effort to ensure he did not stray beyond the scope of the case.
Mr. Trump appeared upset with the limitations; at one point before the jury entered the courtroom, he said, gesturing for emphasis, “I never met the woman. I don’t know who the woman is.”
The judge interjected: “Mr. Trump, keep your voice down.”
Finally, he took the stand. Ms. Habba asked Mr. Trump whether he had intended to hurt Ms. Carroll with his statements.
“No,” Mr. Trump said. “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.” Ms. Carroll’s lawyer, Ms. Kaplan, immediately objected.
Judge Kaplan sustained the objection, saying, “Everything after ‘no’ is stricken — the jury will disregard it.”
The cross-examination was similarly brief: Ms. Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, asked whether this was the first trial Mr. Trump had attended in which Ms. Carroll was the plaintiff. He said yes.
Ms. Habba, in response, then asked if Mr. Trump had been listening to the advice of the lawyer then representing him — prompting an objection from Ms. Kaplan. The judge sustained the objection. Mr. Trump was excused.
The jurors remained poker-faced as Mr. Trump testified; some looked at him, while others looked down. As Mr. Trump stepped off the witness stand and returned to the defense table, he looked directly ahead and did not make eye contact with the jurors.
Lawyers for Ms. Carroll and Mr. Trump are expected to make closing arguments before the jury for much of Friday morning, and the jury then will begin deliberating. A verdict could come Friday. In the earlier trial, the jury deliberated for less than three hours.
On Thursday, after Mr. Trump’s brief testimony, he walked slowly as he left the courtroom.
“This is not America,” he said loudly. “Not America. This is not America.”
Olivia Bensimon, Anusha Bayya and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.