UNITED STATES NEWS

Donald Trump is on the hook for $88.3 million in defamation damages. What happens next?

Jan 27, 2024, 10:19 AM | Updated: 1:38 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — For years, Donald Trump hurled insults at E. Jean Carroll, saying the advice columnist fabricated a sexual assault allegation against him to sell a book.

Will Trump keep that up, now that he’s been hit with a $83.3 million defamation judgment?

A jury on Friday found that Trump had maliciously damaged Carroll’s reputation in 2019 after she went public with her accusations. Jurors awarded her $18 million to compensate for the personal harm she experienced, then added $65 million more to punish Trump — and maybe prevent him from continuing to go after her on social media.

A different jury concluded last May that Trump was responsible for sexually abusing Carroll in a Manhattan department store dressing room in 1996. Those jurors awarded Carroll $5 million. If both judgments stand, Trump would owe her a total of $88.3 million.

Trump and his lawyers have promised to appeal.

A look at the verdict and where the case might go from here:

THE ACCUSATION

Carroll said she was shopping at the Bergdorf Goodman store on Fifth Avenue in 1996 when she bumped into Trump, who lived nearby. She said they recognized each other. At the time, Carroll had a column in Elle magazine and was the host of a cable TV talk show called “Ask E. Jean.”

In court testimony and in her memoir, Carroll said she and Trump went to the store’s lingerie section and then into a dressing room as each tried to persuade the other to try on a lacy item. When they moved into the dressing room, she said, Trump pushed her into a wall, pulled down her tights and sexually assaulted her. Carroll said she broke free and ran.

After she wrote about the alleged encounter in 2019, Trump, who by then has been elected president, told reporters he had no idea who Carroll was, that her accusation was “totally false” and that she motivated by a desire to sell books.

THE FIRST TRIAL

Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019, saying his statements about her were false and damaged her reputation. That claim wound up being bogged down for years over the legal question of whether, in denying the allegations, Trump had been fulfilling his duties as president. Trump claimed that the presidency shield him from liability against the defamation lawsuit.

In the meantime, New York changed its law to give sexual abuse survivors a fresh chance to sue civilly over attacks that happened in the distant past. Carroll was one of the first people to take advantage, filing a new legal claim against Trump alleging that he had raped her. She also sued over things he had said about her after leaving the White House.

Trump was not criminally charged. The civil verdict, however, has led many to mistakenly believe he was convicted of sexually assaulting Carroll. Under state law, too much time had passed since the alleged assault in 1996 for a criminal case to be considered against Trump.

A jury heard testimony in that lawsuit last year and found that while Carroll had not proved she had been raped, under New York’s definition of that crime, Trump had sexually abused her.

The jury awarded Carroll $2 million for the abuse and nearly $3 million for Trump’s public comments about her, which it said were defamatory — and therefore not protected free speech.

THE SECOND TRIAL

With the main legal issues resolved, one matter remained: Had Carroll also been damaged by Trump’s comments while he was still in the White House.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled that there would need to be a new trial to decide that claim, but that trial did not need to revisit the issue of whether Trump had assaulted Carroll or whether the things he had said about her were defamatory. This trial would decide how much more, if anything, Trump owed Carroll for things he had said about her on June 21-22, 2019.

Trump and his lawyers have been outraged that they did not get a chance to make a new argument that he was innocent, but Kaplan said they had already lost that fight.

“It is a very well-established legal principle in this country that prevents do-overs by disappointed litigants,” Kaplan told the lawyers on the day Trump testified in the second trial. “He lost it and he is bound. And the jury will be instructed that, regardless of what he says in court here today, he did it, as far as they’re concerned. That is the law.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Trump’s legal team is appealing the verdict in the first case and has promised an appeal of the second one, too.

“It will not deter us. We will keep fighting. And I assure you, we didn’t win today, but we will win,” said Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba.

Among other things, his team wants higher courts to rule that Trump was within his rights to forcefully deny Carroll’s allegations and suggest she had ulterior motives.

“Everyone has a right to defend themselves,” Habba said.

Trump’s lawyers also are contesting Kaplan’s ruling that the jury in the second trial did not need to revisit whether Trump was liable for sexual assault, and that the judge unfairly limited what Trump’s lawyers could say in front of the jury.

Appeals will go to a panel of judges in New York. The appeals eventually could reach the U.S. Supreme Court for the justices to consider.

In the meantime, Trump has put more than $5.5 million in an escrow account to potentially cover the cost of the first verdict while the appeals play out.

WHAT IF TRUMP KEEPS SAYING PUBLICLY THAT CARROLL MADE IT UP?

Carroll could bring a new lawsuit over each new comment. Potentially, new trials would have to be held at which juries could pile on additional damages.

The $88.3 million in judgments against Trump are actually less than what some of his supporters have faced in recent defamation cases.

A jury last year decided that Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Trump ally who tried to keep the-then president in power after he lost the 2020 election, owed $148 million to two former Georgia election workers for spreading a conspiracy theory about them. Juries in Texas and Connecticut have hit Infowars host Alex Jones with $1.5 billion in defamation judgments for promoting a false claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax.

Unlike Giuliani and Jones, Trump might have the financial resources to pay a huge judgment. He reported having about $294 million in cash or cash equivalents on his most recent annual financial statement, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. That’s in addition to the value of his real estate assets, which Trump has claimed are worth billions of dollars.

Still, Trump faces other potential financial liabilities. He is awaiting a verdict in a civil fraud trial, where New York state has asked that he forfeit $370 million in what officials say were ill-gotten gains from loans and deals made using financial statements that exaggerated his wealth.

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Donald Trump is on the hook for $88.3 million in defamation damages. What happens next?