Donald Trump Faces Defamation Trial Over Sexual Abuse Allegations: Accuser’s Reputation on the Line

NEW YORK—Former President Donald Trump displayed his frustration on Tuesday as the judge in his New York defamation trial informed potential jurors that a previous jury had already determined that he sexually assaulted a columnist in the 1990s. Trump left before opening statements, where the lawyer representing the columnist accused him of using his influential platform to destroy her reputation.

Fresh off a political victory in the Iowa caucuses, Trump made a brief detour to a Manhattan courtroom for the penalty phase of a civil defamation lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll. Carroll claims that Trump sexually attacked her in a department store dressing room in 1996. After a jury of nine was selected, Trump left to attend a political rally in New Hampshire.

During his time in the courtroom, Trump’s lawyers protested the trial itself, arguing that he was not receiving a fair trial and that it was inappropriate for the trial to proceed before resolving legal issues through appeals. Trump expressed his displeasure through gestures, shaking his head when it was noted that a previous trial had determined he sexually assaulted Carroll. Throughout the proceedings, Trump, seated at the defense table, did not engage with Carroll or her legal team.

When the judge asked if anyone felt they had been treated unfairly by the court system during jury selection, Trump slyly raised his hand. The gesture drew laughter from some potential jurors and a remark from the judge, who said, “We know how you stand.”

Following Trump’s departure, the opening statements began. Carroll’s attorney, Shawn Crowley, argued that Trump must be held accountable for his statements after she publicly accused him of sexual abuse in her 2019 memoir. Crowley claimed that Trump used his position as president to attack and humiliate Carroll, damaging her reputation. Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, countered that Carroll’s career had prospered and that she had willingly sought the limelight. Habba suggested that the evidence would reveal a different story from what Carroll’s lawyers had portrayed.

Testimony is set to begin on Wednesday with Carroll expected to take the witness stand. Trump did not attend the previous trial, where a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing Carroll and awarded her $5 million in damages. However, the jury did not find sufficient evidence to support a rape allegation. The current trial will focus solely on determining the amount of monetary compensation, if any, that Trump must pay Carroll for his comments about her while he was president.

During the proceedings, there was a tense exchange between Trump’s lawyers and the judge. Trump’s legal team accused the judge of impeding their defense with pretrial evidence rulings. They requested a suspension of the trial so that Trump could attend his mother-in-law’s funeral, but the judge denied the request. The judge also stated that Trump could testify on Monday, even if the trial concludes by Thursday.

Prospective jurors filed into the courtroom, answering questions posed by the judge, providing insight into their political beliefs, and personal connections to Trump or his adversaries. These jurors will remain anonymous for their safety.

Trump has capitalized on his court appearances, portraying himself as a victim of partisan lawyers, judges, and prosecutors as he seeks to regain the presidency. Carroll, aged 80, plans to testify about the damage to her career and reputation resulting from Trump’s public statements. She is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages, along with punitive damages.

If Trump testifies, there will be strict limits on what he can say. The prior verdict prevents him from denying the allegations of sexual abuse or defamation. Although Trump has not paid the awarded damages, he has placed $5.55 million in escrow to cover the verdict and other costs in case he loses his appeal. The only issue left for the new jury to determine is the amount Trump owes for his comments about Carroll while he was president.

Despite maintaining that he doesn’t know Carroll and never met her, Trump continues to face legal battles and defend himself against accusations that he made false statements for personal and political gain.