Trump may testify in E Jean Carroll defamation case: Here’s what’s to know

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Former United States President Donald Trump may testify on Monday in a defamation trial over his 2019 comments branding writer E Jean Carroll a liar who faked a sexual attack to sell a memoir. He plans to be in court as the New York trial resumes after a weekend break.

Trump has denied Carroll’s accusations and has targeted her in comments to reporters and on social media, accusing her of making up the claims. Yet until now, he has never testified in court over the allegations.

Here is what to know about the case as well as the latest developments:

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Who is E Jean Carroll and what does she accuse Trump of?

Carroll, 80, a former Elle magazine advice columnist, has accused Trump, 77, of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan in either 1995 or early 1996.

Carroll first made the accusations in a 2019 memoir.

E Jean Carroll testifies before Judge Lewis Kaplan as former US President Donald Trump watches, during the second civil trial where Carroll accused Trump of raping her decades ago [File: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters]

Trump has vehemently denied that a rape ever occurred or that he even knew Carroll. He has labelled Carroll a “nut job” and “mentally sick”.

She is seeking at least $10m for damage to her reputation over two statements that Trump made in June 2019, while he was president, in which he denied that anything happened and said Carroll made up the incident to boost sales of her memoir.

“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 told jurors and Trump last week.

What’s happened between 2019 and now?

In 2019, Carroll filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump alleging that he labelled her a liar following the release of her memoir.

The same year, while serving as president, Trump refuted Carroll’s accusations, telling a reporter at the White House: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”

He stated that he didn’t know her, emphasising that people who make such charges “have to be careful, because they are playing with very dangerous territory”.

In the lawsuit, Carroll stated that Trump “smeared her integrity, honesty and dignity – all in the national press”.

That lawsuit was tied up in appeals courts as judges decided whether Trump was protected from legal claims for comments made while he was president.

But wasn’t Trump held guilty in a case involving Carroll?

In 2022, Carroll filed a second lawsuit against him minutes after a new New York State law took effect allowing victims of sexual violence to sue over attacks that occurred decades ago.

She accused Trump of battery “when he forcibly raped and groped her” and of defamation, citing an October post on his Truth Social platform where he denied the alleged rape. In the post Trump called Carroll’s claim a “hoax” and “lie”, prompting the new defamation claim.

To distinguish between the two cases, court papers sometimes refer to the suit over Trump’s 2019 comments as Carroll I, and the second case as Carroll II.

The second lawsuit moved forward because it was centred in statements Trump made when he was no longer in office.

As a result, a nine-member jury determined in May 2023 that the ex-president did not rape Carroll, but they did find him liable for sexual abuse and defamation. Jurors awarded Carroll a little more than $2m for sexual abuse. They also awarded her $3m in damages for defamation. Trump is appealing that verdict.

According to a report by The New York Times, Trump has not faced criminal charges for sexual assault, and such charges are not possible due to the expiration of the statute of limitations in the case involving Carroll.

Criminal court requires a high standard of proof, where guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury. In contrast, in a civil case, the standard is lower, and a jury can determine liability if it believes there is a likelihood greater than 50 percent that the claim is true.

That’s Carroll II. But is Carroll I still in limbo?

Last week, following the conclusion of appeals in Carroll I and with the Biden administration’s Justice Department affirming last summer that Trump lacked immunity, the trial finally began.

Because the first jury found that Trump sexually abused Carroll in the 1990s and then defamed her in 2022, the new trial concerns only how much more – if anything – he’ll be ordered to pay her for other remarks he made in 2019 while he was president.

Who forms the jury and what are Trump and Carroll stating?

The judge selected a jury of two women and seven men to hear the case.

During opening statements, Carroll told jurors that Trump used his position as president to tell outright lies.

“He used the world’s biggest microphone to attack Ms. Carroll, to humiliate her and to destroy her reputation,” Carroll lawyer Shawn Crowley told jurors, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

Alina Habba, a lawyer defending Trump, told the jury Carroll has benefitted from the situation.

“Her career has prospered, and she has been thrust back into the limelight as she always has wanted,” Habba said

“She has gained more fame, more notoriety than she could have ever dreamed of.”

“The evidence will show that Ms. Carroll has made Trump the focal point of her identity now,” Habba said, adding: “She doesn’t want to fix her reputation, ladies and gentlemen. She likes her new brand.”

E. Jean Carroll exits Manhattan Federal Court, in the second civil trial after she accused former U.S. President Donald Trump of raping her decades ago
Carroll exits Manhattan Federal Court, in the second civil trial [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

What comes next?

Trump could testify on Monday. Carroll’s 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.

Judge 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.

Trump doesn’t have to attend or give testimony in the civil case. He stayed away last year from the prior trial.

The former president is currently 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 on Tuesday.

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