The verdict was announced in a federal courtroom in New York City on the first day of jury deliberations.
NEW YORK – A jury found Donald Trump liable Tuesday for sex abuse advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, awarding her $5 million in a ruling that could haunt the former president as he fights to win back the White House .
The verdict was divided: Jurors rejected Carroll’s claim that she was raped, holding Trump responsible for a lesser degree of sexual abuse. The ruling adds to Trump’s legal woes and offers vengeance to Carroll, whose allegations have been mocked and dismissed by Trump for years.
He nodded as the verdict was announced in a New York City federal courtroom just three hours after deliberations began, then hugged supporters and smiled through his tears. As the court cleared, Carroll could be heard laughing and crying.
Jurors also held Trump accountable for defaming Carroll over his allegations. Trump did not attend the civil trial and was absent when the verdict was read.
Trump immediately lashed out on his social media site, claiming he didn’t know Carroll and referring to the verdict as “a disgrace” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.” He promised to appeal.
Trump’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, shook Carroll’s hand and hugged his attorney, Roberta Kaplan, after the verdict was announced. Outside the courtroom, he told reporters the jury’s denial of the rape charge while finding Trump responsible for sexual abuse was “bewildering” and “weird.”
“Part of me was obviously very happy that Donald Trump wasn’t labeled a rapist,” she said.
He defended Trump’s absence, citing the “circus atmosphere” of the trial. He said having Trump there “would be more of a circus.”
Tacopina added, “What else can you say but ‘I didn’t do it’?”
In a written statement, Kaplan said the verdict proved that no one is above the law, “not even the president of the United States.”
Carroll, in his own statement, said he was suing Trump to “clear my name and get my life back. Today the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me, but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
It was unclear what, if any, implications the verdict on Trump’s third presidential bid would have. He’s in a leadership position among GOP contenders and has faced little political fallout in the wake of previous controversies, ranging from the vulgar “Access Hollywood” tape to his own criminal indictment in New York.
His GOP rivals have remained mostly silent since the verdict, a sign of their reluctance to cross paths with the Trump supporters who are crucial to winning the presidential nomination. Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, one of the few vocal critics of Trump in the race, said the verdict was “another example of Donald Trump’s indefensible behavior.”
Carroll was one of over a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment. She went public in a 2019 memoir 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 met Carroll at the store and didn’t know her. He called her a “crazy workaholic” who concocted “a fraudulent and false story” to sell a memoir.
Carroll, 79, asked for unspecified damages, as well as a retraction of what he said were Trump’s defamatory denials of his claims.
The trial revisited the lightning rod argument of Trump’s conduct toward women.
Carroll provided multiple days of candid, occasionally emotional testimony backed up by two friends who testified that he reported the alleged attack to them soon after.
Jurors also heard from Jessica Leeds, a former stockbroker who testified that Trump roughly groped her against her will on an airplane flight in the 1970s, and from Natasha Stoynoff, a writer who said Trump l she forcibly kissed him against her will while she was interviewing him for a 2005 article.
The six-man, three-woman judging panel also viewed Trump’s famous 2005 hot-mic recording of “Access Hollywood” about kissing and grabbing women without asking.
The Associated Press typically doesn’t name people who say they’ve been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll, Leeds, and Stoynoff have done.
The verdict comes as Trump faces an accelerating maelstrom of legal risk.
He’s fighting a New York City criminal case involving cash payments to a porn actor. The state attorney general is suing him, his family and his company for alleged financial wrongdoing.
Trump is also grappling with investigations into his possible mishandling of confidential documents, his actions after the 2020 election, and his activities during the uprising at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Trump denies any wrongdoing in all these issues.
Carroll, who wrote an advice column in Elle magazine for 27 years, has also written for magazines and “Saturday Night Live.” She and Trump were in overlapping social circles at a 1987 party, where a photo documented them and their then-spouses interacting. Trump said he doesn’t remember.
According to Carroll, she ended up in a locker room with Trump after they met at the Bergdorf Goodman on an unspecified Thursday night in the spring of 1996.
They made an impromptu trip to the lingerie department so he could look for a women’s gift and were soon teasing each other for trying on a skimpy bodysuit, Carroll testified. To her it sounded like a comedy, something like her 1986 “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which a man admires himself in a mirror.
But then, she said, Trump slammed the door, pinned her against a wall, planted his mouth on hers, pulled her pantyhose down and raped her as she tried to escape. Carroll said he finally kicked him off with his knee and immediately left the shop.
“I always think about why I went in there to put myself in that situation,” she testified, her voice breaking, “but I’m proud to say I walked out.”
He never called the police or noted in his diary. Carroll said she remained silent out of fear Trump would retaliate on her, out of shame and because she feared people would see her as somehow responsible for the attack.
The jury awarded Carroll $2 million in Trump’s sexual abuse and $20,000 in punitive damages. In the libel case, jurors awarded $1 million for Trump’s October statement, an additional $1.7 million in damages to Carroll’s reputation, and $280,000 in punitive damages.
Tacopina told jurors that Carroll fabricated 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.
Carroll “can’t produce any objective evidence to support his claim because it didn’t happen,” he told jurors. She accused her of “making a false report of rape for money, for political reasons and for status”.
When questioning Carroll, she tried to question her description of fighting the much heavier Trump without dropping her purse or ripping her pantyhose, and without anyone around hearing or seeing them in the lingerie section.
The lawyer pressed her — according to her — not by screaming, seeking help as she fled the store, or seeking medical attention, security video, or the police.
“I’m telling you he raped me whether I screamed or not,” she said.
There is no chance that Trump will be accused of attacking Carroll, as the legal time limit has long passed.
For similar reasons, she initially filed her civil suit as a defamation lawsuit, claiming that Trump’s derogatory denials had subjected her to hatred, destroyed her reputation, and damaged her career.
So, starting last fall, the state of New York has given people the ability to sue for sexual assault allegations that might otherwise have been too old. Carroll was one of the first to file.