New York: In a stinging rebuke to former US President Donald Trump, a jury ordered him to pay $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll on Friday for his social media attacks against the longtime advice columnist after she claimed he sexually assaulted her in a department store in Manhattan. The total amount Trump has to pay to Carroll amounted to $88.3 million after a separate jury ordered him to pay $5 million in a sexual assault and defamation case.
Carroll argued that the former President destroyed her reputation as a trustworthy journalist by denying he raped her. The sum that the former US president was ordered to pay far exceeded the minimum $10 million Carroll had sought. Trump called the verdict “absolutely ridiculous” and promised to appeal the decision.
The 80-year-old Carroll clutched her lawyers’ hands and smiled as the seven-man, two-woman jury delivered its verdict and was seen sharing a weepy three-way hug with her attorneys. “This is a great victory for every woman who stands up when she’s been knocked down, and a huge defeat for every bully who has tried to keep a woman down,” she said in a statement issued through a publicist.
Trump had attended the trial in Manhattan earlier in the day, but stormed out of the courtroom during closing arguments read by Carroll’s attorney. He returned for his own attorney’s closing argument and for a portion of the deliberations, but left the courthouse a half hour before the verdict was read. “Our Legal System is out of control, and being used as a Political Weapon,” he said after the verdict.
What is the case?
Carroll claimed that flirtatious, chance encounter with Trump in 1996 at Bergdorf Goodman’s Fifth Avenue store ended violently, when he slammed her against a dressing room wall, pulled down her tights and forced himself on her. Carroll’s case became an issue in Trump’s campaign to retake the White House in the November election, as he is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
The former Elle magazine advice columnist sued Trump in November 2019 over his denials five months earlier that he had raped her in the mid-1990s in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan. Carroll testified that Trump’s repeated denials “shattered” her reputation as a respected journalist who told the truth.
On Friday, Carroll was awarded $18.3 million in compensatory damages, including $11 million for harm to her reputation. Carroll also was awarded $65 million in punitive damages, which she said was needed to stop Trump from continuing to defame her.
In May last year, a different jury awarded Carroll USD 5 million. It found Trump not liable for rape, but responsible for sexually abusing Carroll and then defaming her by claiming she made it up. Trump is appealing that award as well. He is also awaiting a verdict in a New York civil fraud trial, where state lawyers are seeking the return of $370 million in what they say were ill-gotten gains from loans and deals made using financial statements that exaggerated his wealth.
Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, urged jurors in her closing argument Friday to punish Trump enough that he would stop a steady stream of public statements smearing Carroll as a liar and a “whack job”. Trump shook his head vigorously as Kaplan spoke, then suddenly stood and walked out, taking Secret Service agents with him.
His exit came only minutes after the judge, without the jury present, threatened to send Trump attorney Alina Habba to jail for continuing to talk when he told her she was finished. “You are on the verge of spending some time in the lockup. Now sit down,” the judge told Habba, who immediately complied.
Death threats against Carroll
Trump has sought to turn his various trials and legal vulnerabilities into an advantage, portraying them as evidence of a weaponised political system ahead of the November presidential elections, despite no evidence that US President Joe Biden or anyone in the White House has influenced any of the legal cases against him.
Carroll testified early in the trial that Trump’s public statements had led to death threats. The columnist said she had an electronic fence installed around the cabin in upstate New York where she lives, warned neighbours of the threats and bought bullets for a gun she keeps by her bed. “Previously, I was known as simply as a journalist and had a column, and now I’m known as the liar, the fraud, and the whack job,” Carroll testified.
Trump’s lawyer, Habba, told jurors that Carroll had been enriched by her accusations against Trump and achieved fame she had craved. She said no damages were warranted. “President Trump is leading in the polls, and now we see what you get in New York,” Habba told reporters. “It will not deter us, we will keep fighting, and I assure you we didn’t win today, but we will win.”
Trump has separately pleaded not guilty to 91 felony counts in four criminal indictments, including two cases accusing him of trying to illegally overturn his 2020 election loss. During the Carroll trial, Trump was heard muttering that the case was a “con job” and “witch hunt” and that he still did not know who Carroll was, prompting the judge to twice admonish him to keep quiet.
(with inputs from agencies)