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Possible Trump testimony in sex abuse defamation trial postponed due to juror illness

Trump’s lawyer asked if the former U.S. President’s testimony could be delayed until Wednesday because of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday

E. Jean Carroll testifies at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, January 17, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.
E. Jean Carroll testifies at Manhattan Federal Court in New York City, January 17, 2024 in this courtroom sketch.JANE ROSENBERG (REUTERS)

A juror’s illness forced the postponement for at least a day Monday of a defamation trial where former President Donald Trump was expected to tell a jury why he has for years has spoken so disparagingly about E. Jean Carroll — the writer who claims he sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.

As he did twice last week, Trump arrived at Manhattan federal court in his motorcade for the resumption of the penalty phase of a defamation trial over his 2019 comments branding Carroll a liar who faked a sexual attack to sell a memoir.

But Judge Lewis A. Kaplan announced shortly before 10 a.m. that one of nine jurors was told to go home and take a coronavirus test after he reported feeling ill.

Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, also reported that at least one of her parents has Covid-19 and she exhibited symptoms of a fever in the last two days after having dinner with them several days ago. She tested negative for the virus on Monday, though. In the courtroom on Monday, Trump was not wearing a protective mask.

After Kaplan announced the trial would be postponed for at least a day, Habba asked if Trump’s testimony could be delayed until Wednesday because of the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. The judge did not immediately rule.

Because a different jury found last year that Trump sexually abused Carroll, Kaplan has ruled that if the former president takes the stand now, he won’t be allowed to say she concocted her allegation or that she was motivated by financial or political considerations.

Last week, the voluble ex-president and current Republican front-runner sat at the defense table while Carroll testified, complaining to his lawyers about a “witch hunt” and a “con job” loudly enough that the judge threatened to throw Trump out of the courtroom if he kept it up. Trump piped down and stayed in court, then held a news conference where he deplored the “nasty judge.”

“It’s a disgrace, frankly, what’s happening,” Trump told reporters, repeating his claim that Carroll’s allegation was “a made-up, fabricated story.”

Besides tangling with Kaplan, Trump bucked the New York state judge in his recent civil business fraud trial involving claims that he inflated his wealth. Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, delivered a brief closing argument of sorts without committing to rules for summations and assailed the judge from the witness stand. He also was fined a total of $15,000 for what the judge deemed violations of a gag order concerning comments about court staffers. Trump’s attorneys are appealing the order.

In Carroll’s case, her lawyers have implored the judge to make Trump swear, before any testimony, that he understands and accepts the court’s restrictions on what he can say.

“There are any number of reasons why Mr. Trump might perceive a personal or political benefit from intentionally turning this trial into a circus,” attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote in a letter to the judge, who is no relation.

Trump is contending with four criminal cases as well as the civil fraud case and Carroll’s lawsuit as the presidential primary season gets into gear. He has been juggling court and campaign appearances, using both to argue that he’s being persecuted by Democrats terrified of his possible election.

Trump is expected to travel after Monday’s court session to an evening campaign event in New Hampshire, which holds its Republican presidential primary Tuesday.

His trips to court at times also have amplified media coverage of developments that he likes — such as an accounting professor’s testimony for Trump’s defense in the fraud trial — and his criticisms of developments that he doesn’t.

He regularly addressed the news cameras waiting outside the fraud trial in a New York state court. Cameras aren’t allowed in the federal courthouse where the Carroll trial is taking place, so he at one point left and held a news conference at one of his New York buildings even as his accuser continued testifying against him.

“I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened. He lied, and he shattered my reputation,” Carroll, a former longtime Elle magazine advice columnist, told jurors and Trump while he was still in court.

Trump doesn’t have to attend or give testimony in the civil case. He stayed away last year from the prior trial, where a different jury awarded Carroll $5 million after deciding that Trump sexually abused her in 1996 and made defamatory comments about her in 2022. Trump is appealing that verdict.

For complex legal reasons, Carroll’s defamation claims were divided between two lawsuits. Hence the second trial, where she’s seeking over $10 million in damages.

Trump has said his lawyers advised him not to dignify the first trial by attending it. He’s attending the second one, he’s said, because of what he views as the judge’s animus.

Habba told the court in a letter that he might take the stand because, even with the judge’s restrictions, “he can still offer considerable testimony in his defense.”

Among other things, he can testify about his state of mind when he made the statements that got him sued and about how his comments came as Carroll was doing media interviews and journalists were asking him about her, Habba wrote.

She also suggested he could “show his lack of ill will or spite” by talking about how he “corrected” his initial denial of having ever met Carroll.

The revision happened after a reporter called Trump’s attention to a 1987 photo of him, Carroll and their then-spouses at a charity event. Trump responded that he was “standing with my coat on in a line — give me a break.”

The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.

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