NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump was on and off the witness stand at a jury trial Thursday in less than 3 minutes but not before breaking a judge’s rules on what he could say by claiming that a writer’s sexual assault allegations were a “false accusation” and he wanted to defend himself and the presidency.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan swiftly instructed jurors to disregard those remarks from Trump, who didn’t look at the jury when he approached the witness stand, when he testified or when he stepped down.
Once the jury had left, Trump let his displeasure be known as he was almost out the door by turning his head and shaking it as he looked back toward a packed room, saying: “This is not America. This is not America. This is not America.”
The limits on Trump’s testimony were placed on him by the judge when he decided prior to the trial that a previous jury’s finding that Trump had indeed sexually abused advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in spring 1996 in the dressing room of a luxury Manhattan department store and defamed her with remarks in 2022 must be accepted by the new jury.
That earlier jury awarded Carroll $5 million at a Manhattan trial Trump did not attend. The current judge instructed this jury to consider only what additional damages, if any, Trump must pay Carroll. Her lawyer had requested $10 million in compensatory damages and substantially more in punitive damages.
During his brief stint testifying Thursday as Carroll looked on with her lawyers, Trump answered questions from his lawyer, Alina Habba. She told the judge beforehand that her questions were intended to elicit that Trump stood by an October 2022 deposition in which he vehemently denied Carroll’s claims and called her a “whack job” and “sick.”
She said she also wanted to show that Trump did not intend anyone to harm Carroll.
“She said something I considered a false accusation,” Trump said from the stand. A lawyer for Carroll objected and the judge told jurors to disregard the remark.
Later, Trump said: “And I just wanted to defend myself, my family and frankly, the presidency.” That, too, drew an objection and another instruction from the judge for the jury to disregard it.
Carroll claims Trump ruined her reputation after she accused him for the first time publicly in a memoir of sexually abusing her in spring 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman store across the street from Trump Tower.
Trump, 77, has vehemently denied the accusations for the last five years and continues to assail Carroll, 80, on the campaign trail as he pursues the presidency as the Republican frontrunner.
The current trial, which already featured testimony by Carroll, focuses only on statements Trump made in June 2019 while he was president. Those claims had been delayed four years by appeals.
Soon after Habba out of the presence of the jury announced that her client would testify, Trump could be heard saying aloud: “I never met the woman. I don’t know who the woman is. I wasn’t at the trial,”
That comment prompted Kaplan to respond: “I’m sorry Mr. Trump. You’re interrupting these proceedings. … That is not permitted.”
Habba told the Manhattan federal court judge that Trump was her last witness after a lunch break and that she would be brief.
“I want to know everything he’s going to say,” Kaplan told Habba.
Kaplan reminded lawyers and Trump of the limits he had placed on his testimony.
Trump’s lawyers began his defense Thursday with the expectation that he’d be called as a witness to fight the lawsuit.
Trump’s testimony was announced after Carroll’s lawyers finished the presentation of their case by showing jurors video clips of the Republican front-runner in this year’s presidential race saying at a Jan. 17 campaign rally that Carroll’s claims were a “made-up, fabricated story” and a 2022 deposition deriding her as “a liar and a very sick person.”
Trump attended the trial two of three days last week and let the jury know — through muttered comments and gestures like shaking his head — that he was disgusted with the case against him.
After Carroll’s lawyers rested Thursday, Habba asked for a directed verdict in Trump’s favor, saying that it was clear from Carroll’s testimony that there was insufficient proof to allow the jury to find damages.
“Your honor, Ms. Carroll didn’t prove her case, period,” she said. Kaplan denied the request.
Prior to resting, Carroll’s lawyers called a single witness — Roberta Myers — who testified that Carroll was a “truthteller,” an accomplished writer with a long history of unleashing a “tremendous amount of empathy and a great sense of humor” in her popular monthly advice column while Myers was editor-in-chief of Elle magazine from 2000 to 2017.
It was after her testimony that Carroll’s attorneys showed the video clips, including portions of Trump’s October 2022 deposition when he denied knowing who Carroll was.
One snippet shown to jurors was when Trump during his deposition misidentified Carroll as his ex-wife, Marla Maples.
Trump, fresh off big victories in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday and the Iowa caucuses last week, appeared relatively subdued in court prior to his testimony compared to his appearances last week. He mostly gazed straight ahead, expressionless, though he seemed to move his lips along with the movement of his mouth in the video showing him saying the trial was rigged.
The trial had been suspended since early Monday because of a juror’s illness. When it resumed Thursday, the judge said two jurors were being “socially distanced” from the others in the jury box.
Even before testifying, Trump had already tested the judge’s patience. After he complained to his lawyers last week about a “witch hunt” and a “con job” within earshot of jurors, Kaplan threatened to eject him from the courtroom if it happened again. “I would love it,” Trump said. Later that day, Trump told a news conference Kaplan was a “nasty judge” and that Carroll’s allegation was “a made-up, fabricated story.”
Trump’s attorneys have tried to show the jury through their cross-examination of witnesses that Carroll has gained a measure of fame and financial rewards through taking on Trump that outweigh the death threats and other venom slung at her through social media.
The current trial is in addition to four criminal cases Trump faces as the presidential primary season heats up. He has been juggling court and campaign appearances, using both to argue that he’s being persecuted by Democrats terrified of his possible election.
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