Trump glowers and gestures in court, then leaves to campaign as sex abuse defamation trial opens

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump points to the crowd with son Eric at a caucus night party in Des Moines, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Andrew Harnik, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK – Donald Trump shook his head in disgust Tuesday as the judge in his New York defamation trial told would-be jurors that an earlier jury had already decided the former president sexually abused columnist E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s.

Trump left court before opening statements, jetting to a New Hampshire political rally as Carroll's lawyer accused the Republican presidential front-runner of using “the world's biggest microphone” to destroy her reputation and turn his supporters against her. Trump's lawyer contended that Carroll has never been more famous and that she is blaming him for “a few mean tweets from Twitter trolls.”

Recommended Videos

Fresh from a political win Monday in the Iowa caucuses, Trump detoured to a Manhattan courtroom for the start of what amounts to the penalty phase of Carroll’s civil lawsuit alleging he attacked her at a department store in 1996. Trump departed Tuesday after the nine-member jury was selected.

He glared and scowled at times as the jury was being picked, slyly raising his hand at one point when Judge Lewis A. Kaplan asked if anyone felt Trump had been treated unfairly by the court system. The gesture drew laughs from some people in the courtroom and a retort from the judge, who said, “We know where you stand.”

Trump, the former president, and Carroll, the former longtime Elle Magazine columnist, sat at separate tables about a dozen feet (3.7 meters) apart, flanked by their respective legal teams. They didn’t appear to speak or make eye contact.

After Trump left, Carroll's lawyer Shawn Crowley implored jurors to make him pay — potentially millions of dollars — for comments he made while president in response to her claims in a 2019 memoir that he sexually abused her years earlier at Manhattan's Bergdorf Goodman store.

Trump “used the world’s biggest microphone to attack Ms. Carroll," Crowley said in her opening statement. His comments, including claims that Carroll was lying to sell books, humiliated the writer and tore “her reputation to shreds,” the lawyer said.

“He said this from the White House, a place where presidents have signed laws, declared wars and decided the fate of the nation," Crowley told jurors.

While the trial concerns what Trump must pay for his comments in the immediate aftermath of Carroll's revelations, Crowley noted that his rhetoric about the writer hasn't stopped. Trump maintains he never abused Carroll and says her allegations are a partisan smear.

From court Tuesday, Trump fired off a series of social media posts about the case. He wrote on his Truth Social platform that Carroll’s rape allegation was an “attempted EXTORTION” involving “fabricated lies and political shenanigans," and he accused the judge of having “absolute hatred” for him.

Crowley told jurors their job was to answer the question about Trump: “How much money will it take to make him to stop?"

However, Trump attorney Alina Habba said he was “merely defending himself” and said evidence will show that Carroll’s career has prospered since accusing him. Carroll has been “thrust back into the limelight like she always has wanted,” Habba said in her opening argument.

Responding to Crowley's assertion that Trump backers have sent Carroll violent threats, Habba said she sympathized with victims of sexual abuse but any backlash Carroll suffered was “simply a byproduct of the digital age."

“Regardless of a few mean tweets, Ms. Carroll is now more famous than she has ever been in her life, and loved and respected by many, which was her goal," Habba told jurors.

Testimony will begin Wednesday, when Carroll is expected to take the witness stand.

Trump did not attend the previous trial in the case last May, when a jury found he had sexually abused and defamed Carroll and awarded her $5 million in damages. The jury said Carroll hadn’t proven that Trump raped her. In light of that verdict, Kaplan said 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.

As the day began, Kaplan rejected the defense's request to suspend 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 favorable to Carroll.

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

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 watched attentively as several 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 and nodded 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. 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. Neither made the cut.

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.

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, he 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.

Carroll plans to testify about damage to her career and reputation she says 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.

Trump is appealing and hasn’t paid any of that previous 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.

Recommended Videos