Trump briefly testifies in E. Jean Carroll damages trial, clashes with judge

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Former President Donald Trump took the witness stand in a federal courthouse Thursday in New York City, where he testified for just under five minutes after he clashed with the judge in the damages trial in E. Jean Carroll's defamation case against him.

Trump, who returned to court after his victory in Tuesday's GOP presidential primary in New Hampshire, was limited in what he could say, but he still called Carroll's accusation "false" — a claim that U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ordered stricken from the record.

Asked whether he stood by his claims in a 2022 deposition in which he called her allegations a "hoax" and a "con job," Trump said: "100%. Yes." Asked whether he ever instructed anyone to hurt Carroll, he testified: “No. I just wanted to defend myself, my family and frankly the presidency.” Kaplan ordered everything after the word "no" stricken.

Asked on cross-examination whether this was the first trial involving Carroll that he has attended, Trump answered, "Yes."

His defense rested after the brief testimony, and closing arguments are scheduled for Friday morning.

Before Trump took the stand and outside the presence of the jury, the judge noted that the verdict in the previous trial, which found Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation, restricted what Trump could say on the witness stand.

Image: Donald Trump, testifies in Federal Court, as Judge Lewis Kaplan, left, listens (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
Image: Donald Trump, testifies in Federal Court, as Judge Lewis Kaplan, left, listens (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

"There was a trial last year regarding the truth or falsity to Ms. Carroll’s claim that Mr. Trump sexually assaulted her," Kaplan said. "The jury unanimously concluded that he sexually assaulted her and his claim that he did not was false and defamatory," so Trump can't dispute those claims now. "There are no do-overs," he said, adding that "a prior action cannot be relitigated."

He then asked Trump's attorney Alina Habba to confirm her client was "aware of the strict confines" of his testimony. She said, "Yes, your honor." Trump then piped up, saying, "I don’t know who this woman is, never met this woman."

Kaplan warned him to keep his voice down. "You are interrupting these proceedings while your counsel is talking, and that is not permitted," he said.

Carroll is seeking at least $10 million in compensatory damages for “injury to her reputation, humiliation and mental anguish in her public and private life,” in addition to an unspecified amount in punitive damages to “punish Trump for acting maliciously and to deter Trump and others” from continuing to defame her. An expert who testified on Carroll’s behalf put the cost of repairing her reputation alone at $7 million to $12 million.

The jury heard from Trump ahead of his testimony; Carroll's attorneys played a snippet from a news conference he held after court last week, when he called her claim that he sexually assaulted her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s a "rigged and made-up story." The jury was also shown some of his posts on his social media platform, Truth Social, attacking her before it was shown excerpts from his hourslong 2022 videotaped deposition in the case, in which he repeatedly bragged about his wealth.

In the deposition, he said that his Doral golf resort in Miami is worth $2.5 billion, that his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, is worth $1.5 billion and that his "brand is worth more than all of the properties put together."

In another video excerpt, Carroll's attorney Roberta Kaplan asked Trump about the statements at the heart of the current case — when, while he was president, he called Carroll's claims a politically motivated hoax, said she was "not my type" and suggested she made up the claim for profit. Asked whether he'd done any research into his claims before he made them, Trump acknowledged he hadn't. Asked whether he stood by his comments, he said, "Yes."

After he insisted in the deposition that Carroll wasn't his type, Trump was shown an old picture of him and Carroll standing together at an event and mistook her for his ex-wife Marla Maples. Trump then said the picture was "blurry."

E. Jean Carroll at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)
E. Jean Carroll at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City (Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images)

Trump had initially been expected to testify Monday, but the proceedings were postponed after a juror fell ill and Habba told the judge she’d been exposed to the coronavirus and was feeling sick. Habba and her co-counsel Michael Madaio both tested negative for the virus Monday. All nine jurors were present Thursday, and five were wearing masks.

The first witness called by Carroll's lawyer Thursday was Roberta Myers, the former Elle magazine editor-in-chief who headed the magazine while Carroll had a regular advice column. Myers testified that the column was popular and that Carroll had a reputation as "a truth-teller."

Carroll rested her case after the Trump deposition testimony was played.

Trump’s team called as its first witness Carol Martin, a former anchor at WCBS-TV in New York who testified that she'd been friends with Carroll for over 30 years. She was one of two people Carroll told about the Trump assault at the time it happened.

Martin's testimony was interrupted briefly by a ringing cellphone belonging to Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung. Kaplan noted that phones aren't allowed in the courtroom and kicked Cheung out.

The judge presided over the related trial last year, at which a different jury last year found Trump liable for the attack and defaming Carroll. It awarded her $5 million in damages, a verdict Trump is appealing.

The judge used that jury’s verdict to find Trump liable for defaming her in the current case.

Trump had already clashed with Kaplan in the courtroom.

During Carroll’s testimony last week, her attorney complained that Trump was offering animated commentary to his lawyer that the jury could overhear. Kaplan asked Trump to take “special care to keep his voice down.” The directive apparently didn't take — Carroll’s lawyer Shawn Crowley told the judge that she could hear Trump calling Carroll’s claims a “con job” and that the jury could, too.

Kaplan then told Trump that he has the right to be present in court but that that right could be forfeited if he's disruptive or ignores court orders.

“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,” Kaplan said.

“I would love it,” Trump responded.

“I know you would, because you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently. You just can’t,” Kaplan shot back. “Neither can you,” Trump said.

Thursday was the second time Trump has testified as a witness in recent months — he also testified in November in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ $250 million fraud suit against him and his company.

During his one day on the stand, Trump called the case a “scam” and labeled James a “political hack” while calling the judge presiding over the nonjury trial “very hostile.”

That judge, Arthur Engoron, is expected to issue a decision with his findings in the coming weeks.

Trump didn't testify in Carroll's earlier trial. The last time Trump testified in front of a jury was in 2013.

In that instance, he was being sued over allegations he duped an 87-year-old woman in a condominium bait-and-switch at a Trump building in Chicago. The Associated Press described his testimony at the time as “sometimes prickly, sometimes boastful.” The jury found in his favor.

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