Trump faces legal jeopardy in New York defamation trial

  • By Brandon Livesey and Nata Tawfik
  • Report from a New York court

image source, Good pictures

Donald Trump testified Thursday in the defamation trial brought by author E. Jean Carroll, but his much-anticipated time on the stand was short-lived.

The former president – who was already found guilty of defamation for comments he made about Ms Carroll in 2019 – was under strict rules about what he could say.

But he told the jury he stands “100%” by a deposition he gave in 2022, in which he vehemently denied her sexual assault allegations and called her a “whack job.”

Other comments he made were struck from the record by the judge for violating sanctions, which he took considerable time to acknowledge before taking the stand.

Mr Trump has been testing the limits of the courts in various legal cases intertwined with his re-election campaign.

It's a strategy that invests and aligns his political base and gives him significant press coverage as he prepares to become the Republican presidential nominee.

A related civil trial last year found that he sexually assaulted Ms. Carroll, a magazine columnist, at a New York department store in the 1990s and awarded her about $5 million in damages. The jury also found him liable for defamation for making his allegations false.

Despite that ruling, he continues to deny the attack in public comments.

Closing arguments will be held on Friday and a verdict is likely to follow soon.

Negotiating Rules of Evidence

Mr Trump has continued to deny Ms Carroll's allegations of sexual assault – despite what the court has already found – saying he was subject to strict limits on what he could say in his testimony in a New York court on Thursday.

On the legal issues, the judge and lawyers spent more time arguing about what Mr Trump would be allowed to talk about compared to his four minutes of testimony.

Judge Kaplan said the first trial had established the facts, and the only remaining issue was how much, if any, Mr Trump owed Ms Carroll. The Republican front was told he would not be allowed to deny he sexually assaulted Ms Carroll.

The strict rules prevented Mr Trump from giving a private speech or campaigning from the witness stand.

This could be a lesson learned from one of Mr Trump's other legal battles. At the New York civil fraud trial earlier this month, Mr Trump was initially told he would not be able to give his closing argument. The judge in that case asked Mr Trump if he would keep it short and stick to the case.

Mr Trump responded with a six-minute monologue in which he argued he was the victim of political persecution.

Thursday's defamation hearing gave the 77-year-old very little time.

Asked if he stood by his statement, Mr Trump said: “100% yes.”

He continued, “She made what I consider to be a false allegation – a complete lie”.

But Judge Kaplan quickly cut Mr Trump off and told the jury to ignore the last statement.

Finally, Ms. Hubba asked if Ms. Hubba had advised anyone to hurt Ms. Carroll, to which Mr. Trump said: “No, I wanted to protect myself, my family and, obviously, the presidency.” The judge again ordered the second part expunged from the register.

With that the testimony ended. As he left the courtroom, Mr Trump was heard saying: “This is not America. This is not America.”

Earlier in the day, Judge Kaplan warned him to stop disrupting proceedings by “talking loudly”. It includes a moment when he's heard muttering under his breath that he's “never met this girl.” [Ms Carroll]”.

image caption,

Trump watches as his attorney Alina Hubba questions former New York TV news anchor Carol Martin

Testifying outside the limits outlined by the judge on Thursday could theoretically subject Mr Trump to a hefty fine or up to five years in prison.

Ronell Anderson Jones, a law professor at the University of Utah, told BBC News the case showed a “wide gap” between Mr Trump's tactics in court and on the campaign trail.

While the former president and his lawyers wanted to convince a jury that his comments at the White House did not show “a bad will to warrant punitive damages,” that's easier said than done considering his actions.

“It's going to be a tough row, the same jury receiving new evidence that the defendant, outside of court, has continued to spread falsehoods,” Ms Jones said.

The defamation case will resume on Friday at 09:30 ET (14:30 GMT) with closing arguments. It is not yet known if Trump will attend.

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