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Trump attends jury selection as defamation trial gets underway

The trial will determine how much the former president owes for calling his rape accuser a liar.
Donald Trump set to face jury over sex abuse and defamation claims
Posted at 12:34 PM, Jan 16, 2024

Donald Trump shook his head in disgust Tuesday as the judge in his New York defamation trial told prospective jurors that another jury had already decided the former president sexually abused columnist E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s.

Fresh from a political win Monday in the Iowa caucuses, the Republican presidential front-runner detoured to a Manhattan courtroom for what amounts to the penalty phase of a civil defamation lawsuit stemming from Carroll’s claims he sexually attacked her in a department store dressing room.

Prospective jurors were told the trial was likely to last three to five days. Opening statements come next.

Trump did not attend the previous trial in the case last May, when a jury found he had sexually abused Carroll and awarded her $5 million in damages. In light of that verdict, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan told prospective jurors the trial beginning Tuesday would focus only on how much money, if any, Trump must pay Carroll for comments he made about her while president in 2019.

For purposes of the new trial, it had already been determined that Trump “did sexually assault Ms. Carroll," Kaplan said, prompting Trump to shake his head from side to side. The ex-president was sitting at the defense table, flanked by his lawyers, about a dozen feet from Carroll and her legal team. They didn't appear to speak or make eye contact.

As the day began, Kaplan rejected the defense's request to suspended the trial on Thursday so Trump could attend his mother-in-law's funeral — part of a combative exchange in which Trump's lawyers accused the judge of thwarting their defense with pretrial evidence rulings they contend were favorable to Carroll.

“I am not stopping him from being there,” the judge said, referring to the funeral.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba responded: “No, you’re stopping him from being here.”

Habba told the judge that Trump plans to testify. Kaplan said the only accommodation he would make is that Trump can testify on Monday, even if the trial is otherwise finished by Thursday. The judge previously rejected Trump’s request to delay the trial a week.

Trump sat attentively, glaring and scowling at times, as about six dozen prospective jurors filed into the courtroom and spent more than an hour responding to questions posed by the judge covering everything from their prior involvement with the judicial system to their political beliefs.

He twisted around in his chair to get a look at two prospective jurors — a man and woman — who stood when asked if they agreed with his false belief that the 2020 election was rigged, and again when three people in the pool indicated they felt the former president was being treated unfairly by the court system.

The process offered a window into the political beliefs of a microcosm of New Yorkers, drawn from a pool that includes Manhattan and northern suburban counties. Some noted personal connections to Trump or his adversaries. One woman said she had done publicity for his daughter’s company. Another said her father provided moving services for some of Trump's buildings. Both said they could be fair and impartial and remained among prospective jurors.

Jurors selected for the trial will remain anonymous, even to the parties, lawyers and judicial staff, and will be driven to and from the courthouse from an undisclosed location for their safety, Kaplan said.

SEE MORE: At the Trump rape trial, jury hears infamous 'Access Hollywood' tape

Trump has increasingly made his courtroom travails — including four criminal cases — part of his run to retake the White House, positioning himself as a victim of partisan lawyers, judges and prosecutors and capitalizing on news coverage that accompanies his court visits. Last week, Trump attended closing arguments in the New York attorney general's fraud lawsuit against him — and ended up giving a six-minute diatribe after his lawyers spoke.

“I guess you’d consider it part of the campaign,” Trump told reporters last week.

True to form, Trump fired off a series of social media posts about the defamation case after arriving to the courthouse Tuesday via motorcade and entering through a special entrance not usually used by the public. Posting on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote that Carroll's rape allegation was an “attempted EXTORTION” involving “fabricated lies and political shenanigans.” He accused the judge of having “absolute hatred” for him.

Carroll, 80, plans to testify about the damage to her career and reputation that resulted from Trump’s public statements. She seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and millions more in punitive damages.

If Trump testifies, he will be under strict limits on what he can say. Because of the prior verdict, Kaplan has said, Trump cannot get on the witness stand and argue that he didn't sexually abuse or defame Carroll.

Last May, a different jury awarded Carroll $5 million after concluding that Trump sexually abused her in a department store dressing room in spring 1996, then defamed her in 2022 by claiming she made it up after she revealed it publicly in a 2019 memoir. The jury said Carroll hadn’t proven that Trump raped her.

Trump is appealing and hasn’t paid any of that award, though he placed $5.55 million in escrow to cover the verdict and other costs in the event he loses his appeal. One issue that wasn’t decided in the first trial was how much Trump owed for comments he made about Carroll while president. That will be the new jury’s only job.

Even before prospective jurors were brought into court on Tuesday, Trump attorney Michael Madaio complained that the judge had made “inconsistent and unfair” rulings against Trump prior to the start of the trial. He said the rulings “drastically changed our ability to defend this case and largely stripped us of our defenses.”

He also argued that given Trump's pending appeal, the trial should not proceed at all.

Trump, 77, has continued to maintain that he doesn't know Carroll, that he never met her at the Bergdorf Goodman store in midtown Manhattan in spring 1996 and that Carroll made up her claims to sell her book and for political reasons.

SEE MORE: Trump wins Iowa caucuses as weather depresses turnout

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