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Trump walks out of court during closing arguments of defamation trial

The judge threatened to send former U.S. President’s attorney Alina Habba to jail for continuing to talk when he told her she was finished

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to his supporters, as he departs for his second civil trial after E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her decades ago, in New York City, January 26, 2024.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to his supporters, as he departs for his second civil trial after E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her decades ago, in New York City, January 26, 2024.EDUARDO MUNOZ (REUTERS)

Former President Donald Trump abruptly walked out on closing arguments in Manhattan federal court Friday as a lawyer for a writer seeking millions of dollars in damages for defamation urged a jury to send him a message to stop abuse of her client.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan interrupted the closing argument that the lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, was making on behalf of writer E. Jean Carroll to note for the record that Trump “just rose and walked out of the courtroom.”

The walkout occurred shortly after closing began and minutes after the judge threatened to send Trump attorney Alina Habba to jail for continuing to talk when he told her she was finished.

“You are on the verge of spending some time in the lockup. Now sit down,” the judge told Habba. Roberta Kaplan and the judge are unrelated.

Trump had appeared agitated all morning, vigorously shaking his head during Kaplan’s closing arguments.

The walkout occurred shortly after Roberta Kaplan said: “Donald Trump has tried to normalize conduct that is abnormal.”

The closings were occurring in the defamation case against Trump a day after he left the courtroom fuming that he hadn’t been given an opportunity to refute Carroll’s sexual abuse accusations.

Lawyers were summing up for nine jurors who will start deliberating later in the day whether Carroll, a longtime advice columnist, is entitled to more than the $5 million she was awarded in a separate trial last year.

The final remarks from the lawyers come a day after Trump managed to sneak past a federal judge’s rules severely limiting what he could say during his turn on the witness stand, which wound up lasting just 3 minutes.

“She said something that I considered to be a false accusation,” Trump said, later adding: “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.” The jury was told by the judge to disregard both remarks.

A different jury last May concluded that Trump sexually abused Carroll in the spring of 1996 in the changing room of a luxury Manhattan department store. It also found that he defamed her in 2022 by claiming she made up the allegation to sell a memoir.

Trump, the Republican frontrunner in this year’s presidential election, has long regretted his decision not to testify at that trial, blaming his lawyers for bad advice. The jury in this new trial has been told that it is there for a limited purpose.

Kaplan will instruct jurors on the law before they deliberate, telling them that they must accept the verdict reached last year and only determine whether additional damages are owed for statements Trump made in June 2019 while he was president. The claims had been delayed for years by court appeals.

Carroll’s lawyers seek over $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Trump attorney Alina Habba has argued against damages, saying Carroll’s association with Trump had given her the fame she craved and that death threats she received cannot be blamed on Trump’s remarks.

Carroll, 80, testified at last year’s trial that she had a chance encounter with Trump at a Bergdorf Goodman store that was flirtatious and lighthearted until Trump cornered her in a changing room. Her claim that Trump raped her was rejected by last year’s jury, though it agreed she was sexually abused.

Last week, Carroll testified that her career was shattered by Trump’s statements about her claims over the last five years, most recently on the campaign trail for president. She said she bought bullets for a gun she inherited from her father and installed an electronic fence around her home.

On Thursday, Trump testified that he stood “100%” behind comments he made in an October 2002 deposition in which he denied Carroll’s accusations, calling her “sick” and a “whack job.”

Kaplan intends to instruct jurors Friday that the jury last year concluded that Trump had digitally penetrated Carroll in the department store, but the same jury did not find that he had raped her, according to how rape is defined under New York state law.

Trump attorney Michael Madaio argued at a conference Thursday between lawyers and the judge that Kaplan should not tell jurors specifically what sexual abuse Carroll had alleged because it was “completely unnecessary and inflammatory.” The judge rejected the argument.

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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