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Trump looms over E. Jean Carroll defamation trial even in absence

The former president was attending funeral services for his mother-in-law in Florida, but jurors were played video of him blasting Carroll after court Wednesday.
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E. Jean Carroll returned to the witness stand Thursday to testify in her damages trial as part of her defamation case against Donald Trump, and while the former president was not in attendance this time, his presence loomed large.

Trump, who was admonished by the judge Wednesday for his commentary on Carroll's testimony, was not in court because he was attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, Amalija Knavs, in Florida.

Despite his absence, Trump was was still heard in the courtroom; Carroll's attorney showed the jury video of some of Trump’s remarks to reporters after court Wednesday, where he continued to call Carroll's accusation that he had sexually abused her in the 1990s a fabrication. A separate jury found Trump civilly liable for the assault last year and said his claims she was perpetrating a "hoax" were defamatory.

In the current case, Trump was already found liable for defaming Carroll after she went public with her claim while he was president in 2019, and her lawyers are asking the jury to hit him with a large punitive damages award to stop him from continuing to defame her.

In the video from Wednesday, Trump blasted Carroll as a “person I never knew, I never had anything to do with. It’s a totally rigged deal. This whole thing is rigged. Election interference.”

"It’s a made up fabricated story,” he added.

Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan played only a portion of Trump’s remarks, leading Trump attorney Alina Habba to ask that the entirety of his comments be played, which the judge refused. In the parts not shown, Trump accused Carroll of having “destroyed a massive amount of evidence” and called the judge a “nasty man” and a “Trump hater.”

Trump is expected to be back in court when the trial resumes Monday, when there's a possibility he could take the stand in his own defense after Carroll concludes her case.

During her cross-examination of Carroll earlier Thursday, Habba got Carroll to acknowledge that some of the online vitriol against her began in the hours between when she accused Trump of having sexually abused her and he claimed that he’d never even met her.

Habba also asked the former magazine writer how much she’s currently making from her blog on the web platform Substack, and Carroll said she’s now making over $100,000, but had been making less in previous years. In an apparent bid to mitigate whatever amount in damages the jury awards Carroll, Habba asked if she “would have become as famous” as she is now without her association with Trump.

"It's difficult to say," Carroll replied.

Habba asked if she was more "well-known" now than she was before her accusation.

"Yes, but I am hated by a lot more people," Carroll said.

On re-direct, Kaplan asked if any of the angry tweets in the period between when she went public and then-President Trump slammed her had accused her of being a paid Democratic operative or threatened to rape or murder her. "No," Carroll replied.

Carroll wrapped up her testimony in the late morning and was followed by Ashlee Humphreys, a sociology professor who’s testifying as an expert on how much money it would cost for Carroll to repair the damage to her reputation caused by then-President Trump’s statements that she manufactured the story to help the Democrats and make money.

Humphreys, who testified in Carroll's previous trial as well as in a defamation case against Rudy Giuliani by two election workers last month, said the damage done to Carroll's reputation was "severe." She said the cost to repair the harm would be between $7.2 and $12.1 million.

Humphreys told Habba during cross-examination that she'd been paid $500,000 to date for her work on the case.

Carroll's suit seeks at least $10 million for emotional harm and injury to her reputation and livelihood, and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

Carroll, 80, began her testimony on Wednesday, telling the jury, “I am here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it he lied and he shattered my reputation.”

Some of her testimony Wednesday clearly angered Trump, who complained animatedly to Habba in front of the jury.

“Mr. Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial. I understand you are very eager for me to do that,” U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan told him outside the presence of the jury.

“I would love it. I would love it,” Trump responded.

“I know you would, because you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance,” Kaplan said.

A jury last year found Trump, 77, liable for sexually abusing Carroll in a Manhattan department store in 1996 and for defaming her by calling her a "wack job" and her claims "pure fiction" after he left the White House. It awarded Carroll $5 million, a verdict Trump is appealing.

The current case focuses on similar comments Trump made about Carroll when she first went public with her accusation in 2019, while he was president, and seeks to hold him accountable for comments he made about her after the last trial.

E. Jean Carroll
Author E. Jean Carroll, center, arrives at federal court in New York, Tuesday, on Jan. 16, 2024.Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Trump was not required to attend either trial. He did not go to the first one, which Kaplan also presided over, after initially having said he intended to testify. Trump attended the first two days of the current trial, which started the day after his win in the Iowa caucuses, and has said he will take the stand in his own defense.

Habba had asked the judge in a court filing Friday to delay the trial for a week to allow Trump to go to the funeral for Knavs, the mother of former first lady Melania Trump. Habba said the former president had been planning to go to Florida with his family Wednesday ahead of the service.

Kaplan, who had rejected several other attempts by Trump to delay the trial, denied the request.

"On January 12, 2024, three days after the announcement of the death of Mrs. Trump’s mother and the day before the defendant’s request, his counsel informed the Court by email that Mr. Trump would attend the trial," Kaplan wrote in a ruling over the weekend, noting that the "trial date in this case was set seven months ago."

"A postponement would disrupt and inconvenience prospective jurors, counsel, court staff, and security arrangements and likely cause other logistical and scheduling problems," he said, adding that the "defendant is free to attend the funeral, the trial or both" but that he would not postpone the proceedings. He said that if the trial wrapped Thursday, he would allow Trump to take the witness stand Monday. The court is not in session Friday.

Kaplan also noted that Trump had a campaign rally in New Hampshire on Wednesday night when his attorney said he would be in Florida.

Habba called the ruling "completely unfair" in court Tuesday. "We are asking, again, your honor, for a brief one-day adjournment so my client can be here," she said.

"That is the first time you've done that," Kaplan responded. "You asked me for a week's adjournment. I denied it."

Habba made the request again on Wednesday.

"I am asking your honor to have the kindness that my client deserves to be with his family tomorrow and not have to choose to miss a trial that he has a right to be here for. There is a jury watching. It is prejudicial," she said.

Kaplan again shot her down. "The right that he has, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, is the right to be present either in person or by counsel, and nothing is stopping him from doing either. The application is denied," he said.