Jury finds Donald Trump liable in civil sex abuse case of E. Jean Carroll

A federal jury found Donald Trump liable Tuesday in a civil case for sexual abuse and defamation of E. Jean Carroll in 1996 and said he should pay her $5 million in total damages, a verdict that could further complicate the former president's election bid in 2024.

The jury, which deliberated fewer than three hours, opted not to find Trump liable for rape but rather sexual abuse that injured Carroll.

Trump told Fox News Digital he will appeal the verdict, and said on his Truth Social website that he still has "no idea" who Carroll is. "This verdict is a disgrace," the former president said in an all-caps post.

Carroll, a professional writer, had sued Trump for defamation, saying he lied about a 1996 sexual assault in a New York City department store and disparaged her character in doing so.

E. Jean Carroll at the federal courthouse in New York City on Tuesday

A smiling Carroll did not stop to speak with reporters after the verdict.

Previously19 women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Carroll verdict bolsters their claims.

The sexual abuse verdict comes as Trump remains the frontrunner for the Republican presidential campaign in 2024.

This is not the first legal setback for Trump, who is under criminal indictment in New York City over a hush money case; the former president remains under criminal investigation in at least three other cases, two of them involving efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Jury instructions

This is a civil case, not a criminal one. The jury was not asked to find Trump "guilty" or "not guilty," but whether he was liable for an attack on Carroll. They had several alternative verdicts to consider.

In written instructions, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan asked jurors to decide whether the "preponderance of the evidence" shows that Trump "raped," "sexually abused," or "forcibly touched" Carroll. The jury checked "no" on the rape question.

The jury was also asked to determine if Trump's conduct was "willfully or wantonly negligent, reckless, or done with a conscious disregard of the rights of Ms. Carroll." It said yes.

Jurors also found that Trump's rhetorical attacks on Carroll in social media posts were "defamatory," "false," and made "with actual malice."

Trump attorney Joe Tacopina told reporters that he found the verdict "strange" because "this was a rape case all along and the jury rejected that, made other findings. We’ll obviously be appealing those other findings.”

How will the verdict affect Trump politically?

Campaign operatives and political observers began assessing how the verdict might affect Trump's 2024 presidential campaign. No one knows for sure, as no major candidate found liable for sexual abuse has ever sought the presidency.

Some said it might help the ex-president with Republicans, given his constant and unfounded complaint that the Carroll lawsuit and other investigations are a Democratic plot to defeat him.

"That sound you hear is Trump's polling numbers going up in the Republican primary," said Mike Madrid, an anti-Trump Republican political consultant.

Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor who is also running for president in 2024, said "the jury verdict should be treated with seriousness and is another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump."

Other Republican candidates, including Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley, did not have an initial comment on the verdict.

If anything, Trump's numbers went up after his indictment in New York in late March.

Final arguments

The jurors began their deliberations a day after attorneys for Carroll and Trump made their final arguments.

Carroll's attorneys argued that Trump has a history of pouncing on women and stressed that he refused to appear at the two-week trial to defend himself.

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Trump's attorneys, meanwhile, argued that Carroll made up her story for financial gain and to attack the ex-president politically.

During the course of the trial, Carroll testified for three days about her encounter with Trump at a Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1996. Carroll said she and the prominent real estate mogul chatted and flirted amiably before things turned violent, and he attacked her in a store dressing room.

Carroll said she stayed silent about the incident for years because she feared retribution from Trump and his powerful allies; she eventually decided to write about Trump in a 2019 memoir.

To buttress her testimony, two friends of Carroll testified that she told them about Trump's attack shortly after it happened. Two other women testified that Trump tried to force himself on them. An expert witness testified that Trump's attacks on Carroll on social media and in interviews caused millions of dollars of damages to her reputation.

Access Hollywood

In closing arguments, Carroll's attorneys stressed Trump's questionable behavior toward women in general. They cited the infamous "Access Hollywood' tape that surfaced during the 2016 election in which Trump said that his status as a celebrity enabled him to grab women "by the p---y."

"And when you’re a star, they let you do it," Trump said on the tape. "You can do anything."

In a video deposition for the Carroll trial, Trump essentially stood by his Access Hollywood comments. "Historically, that's true with stars," Trump said, later adding, "Unfortunately or fortunately."

Trump did not testify

Trump did not testify during the trial, a fact frequently noted by Carroll's lawyers in their arguments to jurors.

Instead, Trump's attorneys cross-examined Carroll and her allies at length. They also argued to jurors that Carroll produced no proof of her rape claims, and harped on the number of years that Carroll waited before going public. They suggested that Carroll made her allegations because Trump had been elected president and she wanted to embarrass him.

In his Truth Social post on Tuesday, Trump claimed that he was "not allowed to speak or defend myself." He passed up the chance to testify even when given an opportunity over the weekend by the federal judge in the case. The jury also heard Trump's denials in the videotaped deposition.

Trump spent part of the trial in Scotland and Ireland inspecting his golf properties. While in Ireland late last week, Trump said he would fly back to New York to face his accuser, even though his attorneys were just hours away from closing their case without calling any witnesses.

The judge gave Trump until 5 p.m. Sunday to file a motion to reopen the case to allow his testimony; no such filing ever came.

Civil lawsuit

Trump could not be criminally prosecuted for sexual assault because the statute of limitations has long since passed. Instead, Carroll sued Trump under a 2022 New York state law that gave victims a one-year window in which to sue their alleged attackers.

The law is called the Adult Survivors Act.

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Trump's other legal problems

At the start of the trial, Trump used Truth Social platform to blast Carroll and the trial, drawing the ire of the judge.

It remains to be seen whether the case will hurt Trump politically, or help him, and he faces criminal investigations on no less than four fronts.

A New York City grand jury indicted Trump in March on charges of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to ex-mistress Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors who say the hush money amounted to an illegal campaign contribution are seeking a trial of Trump early next year.

In the meantime, Trump is under investigation in at least three other cases: Attempts to overturn his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden in Georgia; his handling of classified documents and whether he tried to defy a subpoena for them; and any involvement he may have had in the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.