UNITED STATES NEWS

Trump may testify in sex abuse defamation trial, but the court has limited what he can say

Jan 21, 2024, 10:09 PM

FILE - Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization c...

FILE - Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in the Manhattan borough of New York, Jan. 11, 2024. Trump could testify as soon as Monday, Jan. 22, in his defamation trial for calling sexual assault accuser E. Jean Carroll a liar. But the judge has ruled that if Trump takes the stand, he won't be allowed to say that the writer concocted her allegation, nor that she was motivated by financial or political considerations. (Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump has told the public for years what he thinks of E. Jean Carroll, the writer who claims he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. Now he has a chance to talk to a jury about her — but within limits he might well test.

Trump could testify as soon as Monday in the defamation trial over his 2019 comments branding Carroll a liar who faked a sexual attack to sell a memoir. He plans to be in court as the New York trial resumes after a weekend break.

Because a different jury found last year that Trump sexually abused Carroll, U.S. District Judge Judge Lewis A. Kaplan has ruled that if the former president takes the stand now, he won’t be allowed to say she concocted her allegation or that she was motivated by financial or political considerations.

But even while just watching the proceedings, the voluble ex-president and current Republican front-runner hasn’t checked his contempt for the case.

While Carroll testified last week, he complained to his lawyers about a “witch hunt” and a “con job” loudly enough so that the judge threatened to throw Trump out of the courtroom if he kept it up. Trump piped down and stayed in court, then held a news conference where he deplored the “nasty judge.”

“It’s a disgrace, frankly, what’s happening,” Trump told reporters, repeating his claim that Carroll’s allegation was “a made-up, fabricated story.”

Besides tangling with Kaplan, Trump bucked the New York state judge in his recent civil business fraud trial involving claims that he inflated his wealth. Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, delivered a brief closing argument of sorts without committing to rules for summations and assailed the judge from the witness stand. He also was fined a total of $15,000 for what the judge deemed violations of a gag order concerning comments about court staffers. Trump’s attorneys are appealing the order.

In Carroll’s case, her lawyers have implored the judge to make Trump swear, before any testimony, that he understands and accepts the court’s restrictions on what he can say.

“There are any number of reasons why Mr. Trump might perceive a personal or political benefit from intentionally turning this trial into a circus,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in a letter to the judge, who is no relation.

Trump is contending with four criminal cases as well as the civil fraud case and Carroll’s lawsuit as the presidential primary season gets into gear. He has been juggling court and campaign appearances, using both to argue that he’s being persecuted by Democrats terrified of his possible election.

Trump is expected to travel after Monday’s court session to an evening campaign event in New Hampshire, which holds its Republican presidential primary Tuesday.

His trips to court at times also have amplified media coverage of developments that he likes — such as an accounting professor’s testimony for Trump’s defense in the fraud trial — and his criticisms of developments that he doesn’t.

He regularly addressed the news cameras waiting outside the fraud trial in a New York state court. Cameras aren’t allowed in the federal courthouse where the Carroll trial is taking place, so he at one point left and held a news conference at one of his New York buildings even as his accuser continued testifying against him.

“I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened. He lied, and he shattered my reputation,” Carroll, a former longtime Elle magazine advice columnist, told jurors and Trump while he was still in court.

Trump doesn’t have to attend or give testimony in the civil case. He stayed away last year from the prior trial, where a different jury awarded Carroll $5 million after deciding that Trump sexually abused her in 1996 and made defamatory comments about her in 2022. Trump is appealing that verdict.

For complex legal reasons, Carroll’s defamation claims were divided between two lawsuits. Hence the second trial, where she’s seeking over $10 million in damages.

Trump has said his lawyers advised him not to dignify the first trial by attending it. He’s attending the second one, he’s said, because of what he views as the judge’s animus.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba told the court in a letter that he might take the stand because, even with the judge’s restrictions, “he can still offer considerable testimony in his defense.”

Among other things, he can testify about his state of mind when he made the statements that got him sued and about how his comments came as Carroll was doing media interviews and journalists were asking him about her, Habba wrote.

She also suggested he could “show his lack of ill will or spite” by talking about how he “corrected” his initial denial of having ever met Carroll.

The revision happened after a reporter called Trump’s attention to a 1987 photo of him, Carroll and their then-spouses at a charity event. Trump responded that he was “standing with my coat on in a line — give me a break.”

The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.

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Trump may testify in sex abuse defamation trial, but the court has limited what he can say