New York: Donald Trump sexually abused magazine writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s and then defamed her by branding her a liar, jurors decided on Tuesday and awarded her $5 million in damages.
The former US president, campaigning to retake the White House in 2024, will appeal, said his spokesman Steven Cheung. Trump will not have to pay so long as the case is on appeal.
Carroll, 79, testified during the civil trial that Trump, 76, raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan in either 1995 or 1996, then harmed her reputation by writing in an October 2022 post on his Truth Social platform that her claims were a "complete con job," "a hoax" and "a lie."
Carroll held hands with her lawyers as the verdict was read.
She left the courthouse with her lawyer Roberta Kaplan, smiling and wearing sunglasses, and entered a car without speaking to reporters.
The nine-member jury in Manhattan federal court awarded $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Although the finding of sexual abuse was enough to establish his liability for battery, the jury did not find that Trump raped her.
The jury deliberated for just under three hours before rejecting Trump's denial that he assaulted Carroll. To find him liable, the jury of six men and three women was required to reach a unanimous verdict.
Trump was absent throughout the trial which began on April 25. In a post on his Truth Social platform, Trump called the verdict a "disgrace" and said, "I have absolutely no idea who this woman is."
I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen. He lied and shattered my reputation, and I’m here to try and get my life back
'Core pro-Trump voters are not going to change'
President from 2017 to 2021, Trump is the front-runner in opinion polls for the Republican presidential nomination and has shown an uncanny ability to weather controversies that might sink other politicians.
It seems unlikely in America's polarized political climate that the civil verdict will have an impact on Trump's core supporters, who view his legal woes as part of a concerted effort by opponents to undermine him.
"The folks that are anti-Trump are going to remain that way, the core pro-Trump voters are not going to change, and the ambivalent ones I just don’t think are going to be moved by this type of thing," said Charlie Gerow, a Republican strategist in Pennsylvania.
Any negative impact is likely to be small and limited to suburban women and moderate Republicans, he said.
Jurors were tasked with deciding whether Trump raped, sexually abused or forcibly touched Carroll, any one of which would satisfy her claim of battery. They were separately asked if Trump defamed Carroll.
Because this was a civil case, Trump faces no criminal consequences and, as such, there was never a threat of prison.
Trump's legal team opted not to present a defense, gambling that jurors would find that Carroll had failed to make a persuasive case.
Trump had said Carroll, a former Elle magazine columnist and a registered Democrat, made up the allegations to try to increase sales of her 2019 memoir and to hurt him politically.
Because the case was in civil court, Carroll was required to establish her rape claim by "a preponderance of the evidence" - meaning more likely than not - rather than the higher standard used in criminal cases of "proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Carroll had to show "clear and convincing evidence" to prove her defamation claim.
The trial featured testimony from two women who said Trump sexually assaulted them decades ago.
Former People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff told jurors that Trump cornered her at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in 2005 and forcibly kissed her for a “few minutes” until a butler interrupted the alleged assault. Another woman, Jessica Leeds, testified that Trump kissed her, groped her and put his hand up her skirt on a flight in 1979.
Jurors also heard excerpts from a 2005 "Access Hollywood" video in which Trump says women let him "grab 'em by the pussy."
"Historically, that's true, with stars ... if you look over the last million years," Trump said in an October 2022 video deposition played in court. He has repeatedly denied allegations of sexual misconduct.
Kaplan, Carroll's lawyer, told jurors during closing arguments on Monday that the 2005 video was proof that Trump had assaulted Carroll and other women.
Jurors anonymous at judge's request
The federal trial, presided over by US District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is not related to Carroll's lawyer, began on April 25. Citing the uniqueness of a civil case against a former president, the judge decided that the names, addresses and places of employment of the jurors would be kept secret.
After the verdict was read, the judge - who is not related to Carroll's lawyer - suggested the jurors each maintain their anonymity, and directed them not to reveal the identities of other jury members.
"You took this with the seriousness to which both sides were entitled in the great American tradition," Judge Kaplan said. "You did what we asked you to do and you did it conscientiously."
Carroll testified that she bumped into Trump at Bergdorf's while he was shopping for a gift for another woman. Carroll said she agreed to help Trump pick out a gift and the two looked at lingerie before he coaxed her into a dressing room, slammed her head into a wall and raped her. Carroll testified she could not remember the precise date or year the alleged rape occurred.
Carroll faced questions from Trump's legal team attacking the plausibility of her account including why she had never reported the matter to police or screamed during the alleged incident.
Two of Carroll's friends said that she told them about the alleged rape at the time but swore them to secrecy because she feared that Trump would use his fame and wealth to retaliate against her if she came forward.
Carroll told jurors she decided to break her silence in 2017 after rape allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein prompted scores of women to come forward with accounts of sexual violence by powerful men. She went public with her account while Trump was still president.
She said Trump's public denials wrecked her career and instigated a campaign of vicious online harassment by his supporters including various threatening messages and social media posts.
While Trump did not testify at the trial, a video clip from the October 2022 deposition showed him mistaking Carroll for one of his former wives in a black-and-white photo among several people at an event.
"It's Marla," Trump said in the deposition, referring to his second wife Marla Maples. Previously Trump had said he could not have raped Carroll because she was not "his type."
Trump has cited the Carroll trial in campaign fundraising emails as evidence of what he portrays as a Democratic plot to damage him politically.
His poll numbers improved after he was charged in New York in March with falsifying business records over a hush money payment to a porn star before his victory in the 2016 presidential election.
That indictment, filed in New York state court, made him the first US president past or present to be criminally charged. Trump has pleaded not guilty and said the charges are politically motivated.
TRUMP NEW YORK CRIMINAL CASE
Trump became the first former US president to face criminal charges when a New York grand jury indicted him for allegedly falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment made to a porn star before his victory in the 2016 presidential election.
During the campaign, Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 for her silence about an affair she says she had with Trump in 2006.
Trump denies the allegations and the affair but has admitted to reimbursing Cohen for his payment to Daniels.
He has called Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's probe a politically motivated "witch hunt" and pleaded not guilty on April 4 to 34 counts of falsifying business records.
Trump's reimbursement checks for the suppression payment falsely stated that the money was for a "retainer agreement," prosecutors said. The indictment accused Trump of falsifying his real estate company's books with intent to defraud.
While falsifying business records in New York on its own is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison, it is elevated to a felony punishable by up to four years when done to advance or conceal another crime, such as election law violations.
Prosecutors say Trump falsified records in part to cover up the fact that the payment to Daniels exceeded federal campaign contribution limits.
Last week, Justice Juan Merchan in Manhattan asked Trump's lawyers and prosecutors to see if they could agree on a trial date in February or March 2024, which would be in the thick of Trump's campaign for the November 2024 presidential election.
GEORGIA ELECTION TAMPERING PROBE
A prosecutor in the state of Georgia is investigating whether Trump and others acted illegally to try to overturn his defeat in that state's 2020 presidential vote.
The investigation focuses in part on a phone call Trump made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, on Jan. 2, 2021. Trump asked Raffensperger to "find" enough votes needed to overturn Trump's loss in Georgia.
Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney and a Democrat, is expected to disclose this summer whether Trump and others will be charged.
Prosecutors have granted immunity to at least eight fake electors who may have offered to cast electoral college votes for Trump even though Biden won Georgia, according to a court filing last week.
Legal experts said Trump may have violated at least three Georgia criminal election laws: conspiracy to commit election fraud, criminal solicitation to commit election fraud and intentional interference with performance of election duties.
Trump could argue that his discussions were free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.
US CAPITOL ATTACK
The US Justice Department has an investigation under way into Trump's actions after he lost the 2020 election.
Overseeing the investigation is Jack Smith, a war crimes prosecutor and political independent. Trump has accused the FBI, without evidence, of launching the probes as political retribution.
A special House of Representatives committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol urged the Justice Department to charge Trump with corruption of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement and inciting or aiding an insurrection.
Only the Justice Department can decide whether to charge Trump, who has called the Democratic-led panel's investigation a politically motivated sham.
MISSING GOVERNMENT RECORDS
US Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith to also investigate whether Trump improperly retained classified records at his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate after leaving the White House and then tried to obstruct a federal investigation.
It is unlawful to willfully remove or retain classified material.
The FBI seized 13,000 documents from Mar-a-Lago in an Aug. 8 search. About 100 documents were marked classified; some were designated top secret, the highest level of classification.
Trump has accused the Justice Department of engaging in a partisan witch hunt.
NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL CIVIL LAWSUIT
New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump and his Trump Organization last September for fraud.
James said that her office found more than 200 examples of misleading asset valuations between 2011 and 2021, and that Trump inflated his net worth by billions of dollars.
She said the scheme was intended to help Trump obtain lower interest rates on loans and better insurance coverage.
The civil lawsuit seeks to permanently bar Trump and three of his adult children from running companies in New York state, and to recoup at least $250 million obtained through fraud.
Trump, a Republican, has called James' lawsuit a witch hunt, and the defendants have said the claims are without merit. James is a Democrat. A trial is scheduled for October.