Politics / January 27, 2024

Another Big Win for E. Jean Carroll. Another Loss for Donald Trump.

A jury ordered the disgraced former president pay $83 million in damages for defaming E. Jean Carroll.

Joan Walsh

E. Jean Carroll departs a Manhattan federal court at the conclusion of her defamation suit against Donald Trump on January 26, 2024, in New York City.

(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

It took the jury less than three hours to hit disgraced former president Donald Trump with another massive legal loss, awarding writer E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million in compensatory and punitive damages for defaming her after an earlier jury found Trump liable for sexually assaulting her and ordered a fine of $5 million.

Judge Lewis Kaplan instructed the jurors to keep their identities secret. He took the MAGA threats against court officials and jurors so seriously that he urged the jurors not to use their real names in their deliberations with one another. The jurors, according to MSNBC reporters, weren’t all tony, elite Manhattanites. Several didn’t attend college and had working-class jobs. They came from the Bronx and Putnam Counties and other outer boroughs. Yes, they’re based in New York City, but they resemble the demographic profile of many of Trump’s MAGA followers. Only two were women. But seeing him up close and personal, these nine New Yorkers believed the liberal writer Carroll, not the former president.

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As I wrote earlier this week, it was sometimes painful to watch the accomplished Carroll tell the story of what happened to her when Trump denied he assaulted her, insisting that he didn’t even know her and that she wasn’t his type anyway. (A high point of his deposition in the earlier trial came when Trump, shown a picture of himself alongside Carroll at a party, identified her as his second wife, Marla Maples. He didn’t even seem to recognize his then-wife, the late Ivana Trump.)

Carroll testified that as a result of Trump’s abuse, she received rape threats and death threats; an e-mailer instructed her “to stick a gun in my mouth and pull the trigger.” She rescued a pit bull, and “I bought bullets for the gun I had inherited from my father,” Carroll said. “I was attacked,” she told the courtroom.

“I was attacked on Twitter. I was brutally attacked on Facebook. I was attacked in news blogs. I was attacked in messages. As I said, it was a new world. I had left the world of facts, a lovely world, and I was living in a new universe.”

“It ended the world that I had been living in,” Carroll testified.

Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba tried to make the case that, far from being damaged by Trump’s words and actions, Carroll had her reputation enhanced, becoming friends with celebrities and the toast of the then-liberal Twittersphere. “Previously, I was known simply as a journalist,” Carroll countered, “and now I’m known as the liar, the fraud and the ‘wack job.’”

The jury believed her, not Trump. The histrionic president showed up in court several times, even as he was winning early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire. He seethed and blustered and was rebuked by Judge Kaplan, as was Habba. Trump walked out of the courtroom Friday when Carroll’s attorney Robbie Kaplan began her closing argument, and didn’t show up when the jury’s verdict was read. With this, he may have reminded the jury that he views not just Carroll and Judge Kaplan but the jurors themselves with contempt. That might have cost him some additional money.

Trump has already promised to appeal the verdict. But that will cost him money in itself. In civil cases, the loser is often forced to put all or most of the damages into a trust while they appeal. Interestingly, his immediate Truth Social posts on Friday continued to deny that he’d done anything wrong. All during the second trial, the question has been what amount of damages would cause Trump to shut up and stop abusing Carroll. Well he didn’t shut up, but his post-verdict social media didn’t mention the journalist, and that’s a victory in itself. (He railed against “this whole Biden Directed Witch Hunt.”) Maybe he’s finally taking Kaplan at his word that the judge will let Carroll come back, if necessary, to seek more damages.

Not far away in Lower Manhattan, Trump will be back in court next week to hear Judge Arthur Engeron’s decision as to what he must pay for years of business fraud. Though the two cases are very different, in both the facts were not in dispute; all that’s up for consideration is the amount of damages Trump must pay. If Attorney General Letitia James gets the $300 million she is seeking, suddenly, between that and the two Carroll awards, Trump is dangerously close to the $400 million he has testified he has in cash on hand. He won’t be forced to fork over all the damages at once, since he’s appealing, but having to post bail just to appeal the verdicts puts him in a financially precarious situation nonetheless.

Of course, he’ll likely turn to the MAGA faithful to pay his legal bills, but that’s money he can’t spend on his campaign. If I’m Nikki Haley, I’m hanging around at least until the South Carolina primary and maybe even Super Tuesday on March 5, just to see if his money woes—and other legal troubles—begin to pinch. Haley has shown no sisterly solidarity with Carroll, unbelievably claiming that she was unfamiliar with the details of the case. But Carroll has given Haley a minor victory nonetheless.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh, a national affairs correspondent for The Nation, is a coproducer of The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show and the author of What’s the Matter With White People? Finding Our Way in the Next America. Her new book (with Nick Hanauer and Donald Cohen) is Corporate Bullsh*t: Exposing the Lies and Half-Truths That Protect Profit, Power and Wealth In America.

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