On his way to federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, the former president – before labelling the central defamation claims against him “false” while he was on the witness stand – smeared the case against him as a “witch hunt conceived and funded by political operatives” and revived a baseless conspiracy theory that the lawsuits and criminal indictments against him are “election interference” to prevent his second presidency.
In a series of late-night posts, he blasted the case as a “hoax” and repeated potentially defamatory statements about Ms Carroll that have previously been used against him. As he arrived in court, his account declared that he is “innocent” and shared poll numbers and favourable coverage for his campaign, as well as an all-caps statement demanding immunity from prosecution in an unrelated case.
A New York City jury in the civil trial will determine monetary damages owed to Ms Carroll, a former Elle magazine writer whom Mr Trump repeatedly defamed by claiming he never met her, labelling her a liar and denying that he sexually assaulted her. Last year, a jury found him liable for sexual abuse and defamation, and Ms Carroll is seeking an additional $10m in compensatory damages and punitive damages for additional claims.
The facts in the case have already been established, and Mr Trump is barred from disputing that he sexually abused her, leaving a trial focused exclusively on damages owed.
Before he was called to the witness stand, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan instructed the former president’s attorney Alina Habba that she can only ask him whether he stands by his previous deposition testimony, and if he has ever instructed anyone to hurt Ms Carroll.
While the jury was out of the room, as the judge and attorneys discussed what he could actually say, Mr Trump interrupted Ms Habba to repeat that he never met Ms Carroll and doesn’t know her. The judge told him to keep his voice down.
And in an extraordinarily brief exchange after only three questions from his attorney, Mr Trump testified that he stands by his previous deposition “100 per cent”.
“Yes, I did,” he said. “She said something that I considered a false accusation – totally false.”
Judge Kaplan cut off Mr Trump. “Everything after ‘yes I did’ is stricken,” he said.
Asked by Ms Habba whether he ever instructed anyone to hurt Ms Carroll, Mr Trump replied: “No, I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.”
Under brief cross-examination from Ms Carroll’s attorneys, Mr Trump confirmed that there already was a defamation trial against him. His attorney asked whether he followed his counsel’s advice in that case. Mr Trump said he did.
Judge Kaplan then adjourned for the day. Closing arguments will begin on Friday.
Mr Trump, who has relied on his growing list of legal battles to benefit his campaign, sparred with the judge in the court last week, drawing a warning that he could be removed from the courtroom. At a press conference, he claimed that he’s the one who should be “given money” for being drawn into the case.
The trial resumed on Thursday after Judge Kaplan had postponed proceedings for two days after jurors and Mr Trump’s attorney were potentially exposed to Covid-19.
Before resting their case on Thursday, attorneys for Ms Carroll played videos from Mr Trump’s earlier taped deposition, during which he slammed the case as a “hoax” against him and called Ms Carroll “a liar” and “a sick person”.
Ms Carroll’s attorneys also showed the court a clip from his appearance on far-right media network NewsMax last week, when he repeated his claim that he never met the woman suing him.
Judge Kaplan also denied yet another attempt from Ms Habba to throw out the case, after he had previously rejected her motion for a mistrial based on Ms Carroll’s witness testimony that she deleted threatening messages that were sent to her after accusing Mr Trump of rape. Judge Kaplan said she was not obligated to preserve them.
Ms Habba sought to undermine Ms Carroll’s claims that her safety was at risk while questioning Ms Carroll’s friend Carol Martin, a former news anchor, on the witness stand.
Last year, during the first defamation trial, Ms Martin testified that Ms Carroll confided in her soon after Mr Trump allegedly assaulted her in the mid-1990s. The pair were working at the same cable network at the time when a “frenzied” and “anxious” Ms Carroll repeatedly told Ms Martin that Mr Trump had “pinned” and “attacked” her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store.
Ms Martin testified that she told her that she shouldn’t tell anyone, “because it was Donald Trump and he had a lot of attorneys and I thought he would bury her is what I told her,” she said at the time.
“I am a huge consumer of news and I keep up with everything that I can as it happens and the climate in the country felt dangerous to me,” Ms Martin said on Thursday.
Ariana Baio contributed reporting from the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse