Donald Trump began testifying Thursday in a New York defamation trial to determine how much he might owe the advice columnist E. Jean Carroll for disparaging her as a liar after she publicly accused him of a decades-old rape in 2019.
"I just wanted to defend myself," he said in testimony that lasted less than three minutes.
Carroll, who is seeking over $10 million in damages, was in the courtroom as Trump was sworn in as a witness in Manhattan federal court.
Carroll claims Trump ruined her reputation after she accused him for the first time publicly in a memoir of sexually abusing her in spring 1996 in the dressing room of a Manhattan luxury department store.
Trump, 77, has vehemently denied the accusations for the last five years and continues to assail Carroll, 80, on the campaign trail as he pursues the presidency as the Republican front-runner.
The trial that began last week and already featured testimony by Carroll focuses only on statements Trump made in June 2019 while he was president. Those claims had been delayed for four years by appeals.
Soon after an announcement by Trump attorney Alina Habba out of the presence of the jury, Trump could be heard saying aloud: "I never met the woman. I don't know who the woman is. I wasn't at the trial."
That comment prompted Kaplan to respond: "I'm sorry Mr. Trump. You're interrupting these proceedings ... That is not permitted."
Habba told the Manhattan federal court judge that Trump was her last witness after a lunch break and that she only planned to ask him three questions to elicit that he was addressing questions in 2019 in response to Carroll's claims in a memoir that he raped her, and that and that he did not intend his statements to harm Carroll.
"I want to know everything he's going to say," Kaplan told Habba, who said Trump would also say that he stood by a deposition in October 2022.
Kaplan reminded lawyers of the limits he has placed on Trump's testimony, including that he not be permitted to testify in a way that conflicts with or argues against a $5 million jury verdict last year that found Trump sexually assaulted Carroll in a Manhattan luxury department store dressing room in spring 1996 and then defamed her in 2022.
Carroll is seeking over $10 million in defamation damages for his comments after she accused him of sexual assault.
Trump's lawyers began his defense Thursday with the expectation that he'd be called as a witness to fight the lawsuit.
Trump's testimony was announced after Carroll's lawyers finished the presentation of their case by showing jurors video clips of the Republican front-runner in this year's presidential race saying at a Jan. 17 campaign rally that Carroll's claims were a "made-up, fabricated story" and a 2022 deposition deriding her as "a liar and a very sick person."
The trial that began last week is the penalty phase of a defamation lawsuit over statements Trump made while president in 2019, when he claimed Carroll was lying to sell books and interfere politically.
Kaplan has instructed jurors to accept the findings of another jury that last May concluded Trump has sexually abused Carroll in 1996 and defamed her with statements in October 2022 similar to those he made in 2019. That jury awarded Carroll $5 million.
Kaplan said last year’s verdict means the current jury only needs to decide how much more money, if any, Trump owes Carroll for his 2019 statements.
Kaplan had ruled weeks ago that if Trump testified, he would be barred from testifying about subjects that would conflict with last year’s verdict. He will not, for instance, be permitted to say Carroll made up her sexual assault claims or that she was motivated by her book deal or for political reasons.
Trump, 77, attended the trial two of three days last week and let the jury know — through muttered comments and gestures like shaking his head — that he was disgusted with the case against him.
After Carroll's lawyers rested Thursday, Habba asked for a directed verdict in Trump's favor, saying that it was clear from Carroll's testimony that there was insufficient proof to allow the jury to find damages.
"Your honor, Ms. Carroll didn't prove her case, period," she said. Kaplan denied the request.
Prior to resting, Carroll's lawyers called a single witness — Roberta Myers — who testified that Carroll was a "truth-teller," an accomplished writer with a long history of unleashing a "tremendous amount of empathy and a great sense of humor" in her popular monthly advice column while Myers was editor-in-chief of Elle magazine from 2000 to 2017.
It was after her testimony that Carroll's attorneys showed the video clips, including portions of Trump's October 2022 deposition when he denied knowing who Carroll was.
One snippet shown to jurors was when Trump during his deposition misidentified Carroll as his ex-wife, Marla Maples.
The trial had been suspended since early Monday because of a juror's illness. When it resumed Thursday, the judge said two jurors were being "socially distanced" from the others in the jury box.
Trump denies ever knowing Carroll, 80. He did not testify or attend last year's trial, a decision he now says he regrets.
At the current trial, Trump has already tested the judge's patience. After he complained to his lawyers last week about a "witch hunt" and a "con job" within earshot of jurors, Kaplan threatened to eject him from the courtroom if it happened again. "I would love it," Trump said. Later that day, Trump told a news conference Kaplan was a "nasty judge" and that Carroll’s allegation was "a made-up, fabricated story."
Trump's attorneys have tried to show the jury through their cross-examination of witnesses that Carroll has gained a measure of fame and financial rewards through taking on Trump that outweigh the death threats and other venom slung at her through social media.
Closing statements in the case are set for 9:30 ET on Friday morning.
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