Jury: Trump liable for sexual abuse. Accuser awarded $5M

Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his legal team in a New York courtroom during an April plea hearing on charges related to his business dealings. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

A jury found Donald Trump liable Tuesday for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, awarding her $5 million in a judgment that could haunt the former president as he campaigns to regain the White House.

The verdict was announced in a federal courtroom in New York City on the first day of jury deliberations. Jurors rejected Carroll’s claims that she was raped, but found Trump liable for sexual abuse and for defaming Carroll after she made her allegations public.

Trump chose not to attend the civil trial and was absent when the verdict was read.

Carroll nodded as the verdict was read. Afterward, her lawyers put their arms around her, and she hugged supporters in the gallery, smiling through tears.

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Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, shook hands with Carroll and hugged her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. As the courtroom cleared, Carroll could be heard laughing and crying.

Trump immediately lashed out with a statement on his social media site, claiming again that he does not know Carroll and referring to the verdict as “a disgrace” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.”

The trial’s outcome was a validation for Carroll, one of more than a dozen women who accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment. She went public in 2019 with her allegation that the Republican raped her in the dressing room of a posh Manhattan department store.

Trump, 76, denied it, saying he never encountered Carroll at the store and didn’t know her. He has called her a “nut job” who invented “a fraudulent and false story” to sell a memoir.

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Carroll, 79, had sought unspecified damages, plus a retraction of what she said were Trump’s defamatory denials of her claims.

The trial revisited the lightning-rod topic of Trump’s conduct toward women.

Carroll gave multiple days of frank, occasionally emotional testimony, buttressed by two friends who told jurors she reported the alleged attack to them in the moments and day afterward.

Jurors also heard from Jessica Leeds, a former stockbroker who testified that Trump abruptly groped her against her will on an airplane in the 1970s, and from Natasha Stoynoff, a writer who said Trump forcibly kissed her against her will while she was interviewing him for a 2005 article.

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The six-man, three-woman jury also saw the well-known 2005 “Access Hollywood” hot mic recording of Trump talking about kissing and grabbing women without asking.

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

Tacopina told the jury in closing arguments Monday that Carroll’s account is too far fetched to be believed. He said she made it up to fuel sales of a 2019 memoir in which she first publicly revealed her claims and to disparage Trump for political reasons.

Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, cited excerpts from Trump’s October deposition and his notorious comments on a 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which he said celebrities can grab women between the legs without asking.

She urged jurors to believe her client.

“He didn’t even bother to show up here in person,” Kaplan said. She said much of what Trump said in his deposition and in public statements “actually supports our side of the case.”

“In a very real sense, Donald Trump is a witness against himself,” she said. “He knows what he did. He knows that he sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll.”

Carroll testified that she had a chance encounter with Trump at the Bergdorf Goodman store across the street from Trump Tower. She said it was a lighthearted interaction in which they teased each other about trying on a piece of lingerie before Trump became violent inside a dressing room.

Tacopina told jurors there was no reason to call Trump as a witness when Carroll can’t even recall when her encounter with Trump happened.

He told the jury Carroll made up her claims after hearing about a 2012 “Law and Order” episode in which a woman is raped in the dressing room of the lingerie section of a Bergdorf Goodman store.

“They modeled their secret scheme on an episode of one of the most popular shows on television,” he said of Carroll.

Two of Carroll’s friends testified that she told them about the encounter with Trump shortly after it happened, many years before the “Law and Order” episode aired.