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Donald Trump can’t seem to stay out of the courtroom. On Tuesday, Trump will again face E. Jean Carroll, the journalist and Elle columnist who previously won a lawsuit against him, and this case stems from similar claims of defamation. This time, though, Trump may be on the hook for an even bigger penalty than the $5 million he was initially slapped with when she won her lawsuit against him last year. In that suit, a jury held that Carroll had been sexually abused by the former president in the mid-1990s, when she says he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department-store dressing room. The jury also held that Trump later defamed her when he accused her of lying and made other colorful claims in the months after she came forward with the accusation.

This month, they’re back at it, in part because Trump still can’t keep his mouth shut. In this upcoming trial, Carroll is seeking additional compensatory and punitive damages for comments Trump made about her in 2019—but the jury will likely also hear about Trump’s more recent repeated defamatory statements. In 2019, he was still president when Carroll published her memoir detailing the dressing room rape allegation, which was prominently excerpted in New York magazine. Trump issued an official statement after the magazine piece published, saying he had never met Carroll; that she was making up “false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves or sell a book or carry out a political agenda”; and asked for information that might tie Carroll or New York magazine to the Democratic Party. In an interview, he then accused her of “totally lying” and insulted her appearance, saying she wasn’t his type. Carroll produced a photo of herself with the president at an event to prove that they had in fact met, which he waved off, saying, “I have no idea who she is.”

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In November 2019, Carroll sued for defamation, listing out many of the former president’s comments about her and arguing in her filing that “Each of these statements was false. Each was defamatory.” Trump, the suit now shorthanded as “Carroll I” said, made the claims knowing they were false, and he made them maliciously. Carroll’s reputation was damaged, her work impacted, and her emotional well-being compromised.

This argument was also made in last year’s case, “Carroll II,” in which Trump was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation for separate but substantively similar statements. In that second case, Carroll sued the president for battery over the rape itself—she was able to do so only because the Adult Survivors Act was signed into law. That act opened a one-year window for adults to sue for alleged sexual assaults, no matter when those assaults happened (that law expired late last year, which is why we also saw a flurry of sexual abuse lawsuits toward the end of 2023). Carroll sued for defamation in that same suit, with her lawyers asking the court to merge the two actions. But Trump’s team opposed the move, arguing that “To permit plaintiff to drastically alter the scope and subject matter of this case at such time would severely prejudice defendant’s rights.”

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Now, the Carroll I defamation suit is coming before the court. Because Trump was found liable for defamation against Carroll last year, and because Trump’s statements about Carroll that are at issue in this suit are substantively the same as the ones already evaluated by a jury and found to be defamatory last year, the judge ruled that the upcoming trial will be about damages only—there’s no need for the jury to determine whether Trump defamed Carroll, because a jury already did that. There should be no space for Trump to raise his denials of the sexual abuse claim. The only question is: How much will his words cost him?

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Trump has made several (outlandish) attempts to stop this case from going forward, including claiming that he was protected by presidential immunity, as the original comments were made while he was in office. That was rejected. His team has also attempted to push the proceedings back; that was rejected as well. Now, his lawyers are suggesting that Trump himself may testify, and are requesting that previous deposition transcripts be excluded from evidence. This would be new: Trump did not testify in the first trial, and has been conspicuously absent from many of the legal proceedings brought against him. His testimony would likely turn the trial into a clown show. Trump is notoriously undisciplined: Will he constrain his testimony to the issue at hand, which is damages? Or will he try to use the stand as a bully pulpit to deny assaulting Carroll and voice whatever other grievances he can get in before the judge cuts him off? The former president no doubt wants to win in the court of public opinion. But speaking out of turn on the stand could be very bad for him in an actual court of law.

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Trump’s antics aside, the central question of this trial remains: How much money will a jury say Trump should pay Carroll? Carroll is asking for $10 million in compensatory damages, but punitive damages are the wild card—and that is where a jury may decide to penalize Trump for defaming Carroll over and over again, even after being in effect told by a court to knock it off. Additionally, Carroll has been on the receiving end of a barrage of hateful and no doubt terrifying messages, many of which stem from Trump supporters. If a jury concludes that these attacks inevitably kicked up when the former president went after Carroll—a pattern that occurs whenever the former president goes after any individual by name—they may also up the amount in damages they believe he should pay, because Carroll’s suffering from his defamatory statements is so clear.

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But larger questions loom. One of them is whether the former president will continue to make statements about Carroll that are strikingly similar to those a jury has already found to be defamatory—and if, in turn, Carroll will continue to sue. Trump might not care much about the authority of the courts, but he does seem to care about money. If the damages here are significant enough, maybe financial self-interest will eventually be enough to convince him to keep Carroll’s name out of his mouth. At what point that could happen, though, remains a mystery.

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Another question is what message this case sends to women like Carroll, who face blistering attacks after accusing men of sexual wrongdoing. One is that women can fight back, and win. Another, though, is that some men behave with such misogynist impunity that even when they lose—officially! in court!—they won’t quit their campaigns of character assassination. Surely the outcome of this case, which is so particular to the man doing the defaming, shouldn’t be taken as a tipping point one way or the other. But it could be one useful data point that even the most powerful of men may face consequences when they behave absolutely egregiously, and that at least some people do stand behind women who have been wronged.

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And finally, there’s the question of what it will mean for Trump in this year’s election. Trump has a long, long history of making grossly misogynistic statements. He has insulted the appearance of so many women. He has launched sexist attacks on his female opponents, real and perceived. And he has boasted about sexually assaulting women. None of this cost him the 2016 election, and none of it seems to have pushed a critical mass of Republican voters toward other candidates in 2024. If anything, his misogyny seems to thrill and inspire some of the men who support him. There’s no good reason to think that another E. Jean Carroll courtroom victory will convince any significant number of Trump voters not to vote for him because, suddenly, they’re concerned about putting a misogynist in the White House.

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If it does move the needle, then, it won’t be because of disgust with Trump’s misogyny. Instead, it will be because of exhaustion with his drama. The former president has an absolutely insane schedule of court dates ahead of him in the next year, including in multiple criminal actions. His die-hard followers may believe he’s unfairly under siege from a Deep State intent on keeping a righteous man out of office, but independents and more moderate Republicans may simply tire of Trump’s victim narrative, or of the fact that this guy cannot seem to stay out of legal trouble. A president obsessed with extracting revenge from his enemies and attaining even greater power so he can exact even more revenge is not a president who is going to do much for the American people. Trump’s inevitable emotional spiral if the jury awards Carroll hefty damages again may reinforce to the vanishingly small number of reasonable but might-vote-for-Trump Republicans that this man is simply unstable, and that he makes wildly irrational decisions—like continuing to defame a woman after being found liable for defamation of her. The inevitable public tantrum if he loses does not suggest he will use the Oval Office for an agenda of greatness, but of pettiness.

Or maybe, Trump’s supporters will rally around him no matter how egregiously he behaves, seemingly believing that he (and perhaps they) should never have to face consequences for wrongdoing.

Whatever comes to pass, what is certain is that it will not be the last time Trump has to face some consequences in a courtroom this year. For my part, I hope the former president finally leaves E. Jean Carroll alone—and that she walks away with an even bigger boatload of his money.

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Why E. Jean Carroll Is Taking Donald Trump Back to Court

11 8
10.01.2024
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Donald Trump can’t seem to stay out of the courtroom. On Tuesday, Trump will again face E. Jean Carroll, the journalist and Elle columnist who previously won a lawsuit against him, and this case stems from similar claims of defamation. This time, though, Trump may be on the hook for an even bigger penalty than the $5 million he was initially slapped with when she won her lawsuit against him last year. In that suit, a jury held that Carroll had been sexually abused by the former president in the mid-1990s, when she says he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department-store dressing room. The jury also held that Trump later defamed her when he accused her of lying and made other colorful claims in the months after she came forward with the accusation.

This month, they’re back at it, in part because Trump still can’t keep his mouth shut. In this upcoming trial, Carroll is seeking additional compensatory and punitive damages for comments Trump made about her in 2019—but the jury will likely also hear about Trump’s more recent repeated defamatory statements. In 2019, he was still president when Carroll published her memoir detailing the dressing room rape allegation, which was prominently excerpted in New York magazine. Trump issued an official statement after the magazine piece published, saying he had never met Carroll; that she was making up “false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves or sell a book or carry out a political agenda”; and asked for information that might tie Carroll or New York magazine to the Democratic Party. In an interview, he then accused her of “totally lying” and insulted her appearance, saying she wasn’t his type. Carroll produced a photo of herself with the president at an event to prove that they had in fact met, which he waved off, saying, “I have no idea who she is.”

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In November 2019, Carroll sued for defamation, listing out many of the former president’s comments about her and arguing in her filing that “Each of these statements was false. Each was defamatory.” Trump, the suit now shorthanded as “Carroll I” said, made the claims knowing they were false, and he made them maliciously. Carroll’s reputation was damaged, her work impacted, and her emotional well-being compromised.

This argument was also made in last year’s case, “Carroll II,” in which Trump was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation for separate but substantively similar statements. In that second case, Carroll sued........

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