Expected Trump testimony in sex abuse defamation trial postponed to Wednesday after juror falls ill

NEW YORK (AP) — With former President Donald Trump expected to soon take the witness stand, a juror's illness abruptly forced a two-day delay Monday of a defamation trial over his comments about E. Jean Carroll, the writer he called a liar after she claimed he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

The trial will resume Wednesday. The change in plans came after the court asked for COVID-19 tests on all the jurors. One of Trump's lawyers also hasn't been feeling well but tested negative, and his team wanted to postpone the Republican presidential front-runner's next appearance until after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

There was no indication that Trump himself wasn't feeling well, and he didn't wear a mask in court as he watched Monday's brief proceeding. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan announced that one of the nine jurors was sent home to take a coronavirus test after he reported feeling hot and nauseous.

Trump attorney Alina Habba also reported that at least one of her parents has COVID-19 and that she ran a fever in the last two days after having dinner with them and her law partner, Michael Madaio. Both attorneys tested negative for the virus Monday, and neither wore a mask in court.

Habba said didn't want to continue with a trimmed-down, eight-person jury and suggested that a day's delay “will be better.” She later asked to postpone Trump's testimony until Wednesday because of the New Hampshire primary, while Carroll's lawyer pressed for the trial to resume Tuesday, if possible.

The judge didn't immediately rule, but the court system later announced that the trial was off until Wednesday, without specifying why.

Whenever it may happen, Trump's testimony stands to allow him — within limits that he might well test — to explain to a jury why he not only denied Carroll's claims but branded her a liar who faked a sexual attack to sell a memoir.

Because a different jury found last year that Trump sexually abused Carroll, Kaplan has ruled that if the former president takes the stand now, he won't be allowed to say she concocted her allegation or that she was motivated by financial or political considerations.

Last week, the voluble ex-president and current Republican front-runner sat at the defense table while Carroll testified, complaining to his lawyers about a “witch hunt” and a “con job” loudly enough that the judge threatened to throw Trump out of the courtroom if he kept it up. Trump piped down and stayed in court, then held a news conference where he deplored the “nasty judge.”

“It’s a disgrace, frankly, what’s happening,” Trump told reporters, repeating his claim that Carroll's allegation was “a made-up, fabricated story."

Besides tangling with Kaplan, Trump bucked the New York state judge in his recent civil business fraud trial involving claims that he inflated his wealth. Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, delivered a brief closing argument of sorts without committing to rules for summations and assailed the judge from the witness stand. He also was fined a total of $15,000 for what the judge deemed violations of a gag order concerning comments about court staffers. Trump's attorneys are appealing the order.

In Carroll's case, her lawyers have implored the judge to make Trump swear, before any testimony, that he understands and accepts the court’s restrictions on what he can say.

“There are any number of reasons why Mr. Trump might perceive a personal or political benefit from intentionally turning this trial into a circus,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in a letter to the judge, who is no relation.

Trump is contending with four criminal cases as well as the civil fraud case and Carroll's lawsuit as the presidential primary season gets into gear. He has been juggling court and campaign appearances, using both to argue that he's being persecuted by Democrats terrified of his possible election.

Trump is expected to travel after Monday's court session to an evening campaign event in New Hampshire, which holds its Republican presidential primary Tuesday.

His trips to court at times also have amplified media coverage of developments that he likes — such as an accounting professor's testimony for Trump's defense in the fraud trial — and his criticisms of developments that he doesn't.

He regularly addressed the news cameras waiting outside the fraud trial in a New York state court. Cameras aren't allowed in the federal courthouse where the Carroll trial is taking place, so he at one point left and held a news conference at one of his New York buildings even as his accuser continued testifying against him.

“I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened. He lied, and he shattered my reputation,” Carroll, a former longtime Elle magazine advice columnist, told jurors and Trump while he was still in court.

Trump doesn’t have to attend or give testimony in the civil case. He stayed away last year from the prior trial, where a different jury awarded Carroll $5 million after deciding that Trump sexually abused her in 1996 and made defamatory comments about her in 2022. Trump is appealing that verdict.

For complex legal reasons, Carroll’s defamation claims were divided between two lawsuits. Hence the second trial, where she's seeking over $10 million in damages.

Trump has said his lawyers advised him not to dignify the first trial by attending it. He's attending the second one, he's said, because of what he views as the judge's animus.

Habba told the court in a letter that he might take the stand because, even with the judge's restrictions, “he can still offer considerable testimony in his defense."

Among other things, he can testify about his state of mind when he made the statements that got him sued and about how his comments came as Carroll was doing media interviews and journalists were asking him about her, Habba wrote.

She also suggested he could “show his lack of ill will or spite” by talking about how he “corrected” his initial denial of having ever met Carroll.

The revision happened after a reporter called Trump's attention to a 1987 photo of him, Carroll and their then-spouses at a charity event. Trump responded that he was “standing with my coat on in a line — give me a break.”

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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Associated Press Writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.