NATIONAL NEWS

Donald Trump testifies for less than 3 minutes in defamation trial and is rebuked by judge

Jan 24, 2024, 9:22 PM | Updated: Jan 25, 2024, 3:14 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — He testified for under three minutes. But former President Donald Trump still broke a judge’s rules on what he could tell a jury about writer E. Jean Carroll’s sexual assault and defamation allegations, and he left the courtroom Thursday bristling to the spectators: “This is not America.”

Testifying in his own defense in the defamation trial, Trump didn’t look at the jury during his short, heavily negotiated stint on the witness stand. Because of the complex legal context of the case, the judge limited his lawyers to asking a handful of short questions, each of which could be answered yes or no — such as whether he’d made his negative statements in response to an accusation and didn’t intend anyone to harm Carroll.

But Trump nudged past those limits.

“She said something that I considered to be a false accusation,” he said, later adding: “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.”

After Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told jurors to disregard those remarks, Trump rolled his eyes as he stepped down from the witness stand. The former president and current Republican front-runner left the courtroom during a break soon after, shaking his head and declaring to spectators — three times — that “this is not America.”

Carroll looked on throughout from the plaintiff’s table. The longtime advice columnist alleges that Trump attacked her in 1996, then defamed her by calling her a liar when she went public with her story in a 2019 memoir.

While Trump has said a lot about her to the court of public opinion, Thursday marked the first time he has directly addressed a jury about her claims.

But jurors also heard parts of a 2022 deposition — a term for out-of-court questioning under oath — in which Trump vehemently denied Carroll’s allegations, calling her “sick” and a “whack job.” Trump told jurors Thursday that he stood by that deposition, “100%.”

Trump didn’t attend a related trial last spring, when a different jury found that he did sexually abuse Carroll and that some of his comments were defamatory, awarding her $5 million. This trial concerns only how much more he may have to pay her for certain remarks he made in 2019, while president. She’s seeking at least $10 million.

Because of the prior jury’s findings, Kaplan said Trump now couldn’t offer any testimony “disputing or attempting to undermine” the sexual abuse allegations. The law doesn’t allow for “do-overs by disappointed litigants,” the judge said.

Even before taking the stand, Trump chafed at those limitations as the judge and lawyers for both sides discussed what he could be asked.

“I never met the woman. I don’t know who the woman is. I wasn’t at the trial,” he cut in from his seat at the defense table without jurors in the room. Kaplan told Trump he wasn’t allowed to interrupt the proceedings.

Trump was the last witness, and closing arguments are set for Friday.

Carroll, 80, claims Trump, 77, ruined her reputation after she publicly aired her account of a chance meeting that spiraled into a sexual assault in spring 1996. At the time, he was a prominent real estate developer, and she was an Elle magazine advice columnist who’d had a TV show.

She says they ran into each other at Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury department store close to Trump Tower, bantered and ended up in a dressing room, teasing each other about trying on lingerie. She has testified that she thought it would just be a funny story to tell but then he roughly forced himself on her before she eventually fought him off and fled.

The earlier jury found that she was sexually abused but rejected her allegation that she was raped.

Besides Trump, his defense called only one other witness, a friend of Carroll’s. The friend, retired TV journalist Carol Martin, was among two people the writer told about her encounter with Trump shortly after it happened, according to testimony at the first trial.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba confronted Martin on Tuesday with text messages in which she called Carroll a “narcissist” who seemed to be reveling in the attention she got from accusing and suing Trump. Martin said she regretted her word choices and doesn’t believe that Carroll loved the attention she has been getting.

Carroll has testified that she has gotten death threats that worried her enough to buy bullets for a gun she inherited from her father, install an electronic fence, warn her neighbors and unleash her pit bull to roam freely on the property of her small cabin in the mountains of upstate New York.

Trump’s attorneys have tried to show the jury through their cross-examination of various witnesses that by taking on Trump, Carroll has gained a measure of fame and financial rewards that outweigh the threats and other venom slung at her through social media.

After Carroll’s lawyers rested Thursday, Habba asked for a directed verdict in Trump’s favor, saying Carroll’s side hadn’t proven its case. Kaplan denied the request.

Even before testifying, Trump had already tested the judge’s patience. After he complained to his lawyers last week about a “witch hunt” and a “con job” within earshot of jurors, Kaplan threatened to eject him from the courtroom if it happened again. “I would love it,” Trump said. Later that day, Trump told a news conference Kaplan was a “nasty judge” and that Carroll’s allegation was “a made-up, fabricated story.”

While attending the trial last week, Trump made it clear — through muttered comments and gestures like shaking his head — that he was disgusted with the case. When a video clip from a Trump campaign rally last week was shown in court Thursday, he appeared to lip-synch himself saying the trial was rigged.

The trial had been suspended since early Monday because of a juror’s illness. When it resumed Thursday, the judge said two jurors were being “socially distanced” from the others.

Trump attended the trial fresh off big victories in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday and the Iowa caucuses last week. Meanwhile, he also faces four criminal cases. He has been juggling court and campaign appearances, using both to argue that he’s being persecuted by Democrats terrified of his possible election.

The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.

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