Takeaways from first day of Trump’s defamation trial

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Donald Trump attended the first day of his civil defamation trial, watching as a jury was selected to determine how much, if any, damages the former president must pay to E. Jean Carroll for his 2019 defamatory statements about Carroll’s sexual assault allegations.

Trump’s courthouse attendance Tuesday – where he attended jury selection but did not speak – came one day after his resounding Iowa caucuses win, yet another illustration of how Trump’s campaign and legal fortunes are intertwined as he navigates a race for president with multiple criminal and civil trials that could have him in courthouses up and down the East Coast in 2024.

Trump watched as prospective jurors were asked about their political donations to him and his political opponents, whether they believed the 2020 election was stolen and how they got their news. He left court before opening statements to travel to New Hampshire for a campaign event Tuesday evening with the primary one week away.

Trump may return to New York later this week for the rest of the trial, and his lawyers have suggested he could testify in the case, though the judge has ruled that Trump cannot try to contest a previous jury’s verdict that he sexually abused and defamed Carroll.

Carroll is seeking $10 million in damages.

Here are takeaways from the first day of the defamation trial:

Carroll attorney argues for ‘very significant’ damages sum

Trump left court Tuesday before opening statements began, where Carroll’s lawyer Shawn Crowley told the jury that it had already been proven that Trump sexually assaulted Carroll in a high-end department store in the 1990s.

That jury’s finding stemmed from statements Trump made in 2022, while the current case is dealing with statements Trump made while he was president in 2019.

“Donald Trump sexually assaulted E. Jean Carroll. He managed to get her alone in an empty department store one evening and sexually assaulted her. That’s a fact,” Crowley said. “That fact has been proven and a jury sitting in the exact seats where you’re sitting now found that it happened.”

Crowley said that Trump’s attacks on her while he was president “unleashed his followers” and caused her to receive threats. “Trump was president when he made those statements, and he used the world’s biggest microphone to attack Ms. Carroll to humiliate her and to destroy her reputation,” Crowley said.

The damages awarded to Carroll “should be significant, very significant,” her lawyer argued.

“You will also be asked to decide how much money Donald Trump should have to pay as punishment for what he’s done and to deter him and others from doing it again,” Crowley said, noting Trump continued to post about her on social media, even as the trial got underway on Tuesday.

Trump attorney: Carroll has prospered since the allegations came out

Trump attorney Alina Habba argued that Carroll’s reputation was not harmed by Trump and that her career prospered since she came forward with the sexual assault allegations.

Habba told the jury to remember, “This case is not about assault. We had that case. This case is about the defamation.”

Carroll waited for the opportune time to publicly share her story to maximize coverage, Trump’s lawyer claimed.

“If you make explosive allegations about a sitting president – no matter who the president – people are going to react both good and bad,” Habba said.

“Now she wants President Trump to pay for the risks she took for the way she did this,” Habba said of Carroll. “She wants President Trump to pay for the mean tweets.”

Jurors are familiar with Trump

The jury selection process provided a window into the jury panel that will decide Trump’s defamation case.

Manhattan, where the civil case is taking place, voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden over Trump in the 2020 election, 87% to 12%, though jurors can also come from other counties north of the city that are part of the Southern District of New York and aren’t quite as solidly blue.

That doesn’t mean the pool was a monolith. Two of the prospective jurors said they agreed with Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election had been stolen. Three potential jurors said they donated to Trump or groups supporting him. All three said that wouldn’t affect their ability to be fair and impartial. None of those prospective jurors were ultimately selected to the trial jury.

More than 10 said they’d donated to Biden and other top Democrats.

Three prospective jurors said they believe Trump is being treated unfairly by the US court system. A male juror in the gallery stood to answer that question before it was his turn.

“You’re not in the jury box, but we know where you stand,” Judge Lewis Kaplan quipped. That juror said Tuesday he donated to Trump, went to a Trump event and believes the 2020 election was stolen.

Nearly all in the jury pool said they’d read about Trump’s legal cases, though only two indicated they thought that would affect their ability to be fair. Both were dismissed before the jury was selected.

What’s next in the trial

Carroll is slated to testify Wednesday in the trial, which is expected to last a few days.

Her lawyers have said they may play portions of Trump’s 2022 deposition, as well as the “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump can be heard making vulgar comments about his treatment of women to show host Billy Bush.

Trump’s lawyers have also indicated he plans to testify, although Trump has changed his mind on testifying before, including last month in his New York civil fraud trial.

The judge has limited the testimony in the case to damages and harm, ruling that the jury’s verdict in the first defamation trial will also carry over to this case.

Last May, a Manhattan federal jury found that Trump sexually abused Carroll and then defamed her in 2022 public statements he made disparaging her and denying the allegations, awarding Carroll $5 million in damages. Trump is appealing the verdict.

The defamatory statements at issue in this trial were made in June 2019, when Trump was president. Trump said, in part, “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?”

Habba asked Kaplan on Tuesday to postpone the trial on Thursday so that Trump could attend his mother-in-law’s funeral. Kaplan said he already ruled he would not postpone the trial, but that Trump could testify on Monday even if the defense wraps up its case this week.

“I am not stopping him from being there,” Kaplan said.

“No, you’re stopping him from being here, Your Honor,” Habba responded.

“The argument is over,” Kaplan said, declining to change his previous ruling.

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