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Trump testifies briefly in the defamation trial brought by writer E. Jean Carroll

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The defamation case against former President Donald Trump brought by writer E. Jean Carroll could wrap up as early as today. Trump testified yesterday very briefly in his own defense. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering this case. Andrea, so what does the jury have to decide?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Really, not too much. There was a trial last May, as you know, when the jury had to decide whether Trump was liable for forcing himself on Carroll in a department store dressing room in the 1990s and whether statements he made in 2022 about her were false and defamatory. As the judge put it yesterday, quote, "he did it, and that's the law."

So what's at issue here is how much Trump will have to pay for comments he made in 2019 from the White House, including from the Resolute Desk of the Oval Office, that, quote, "she's not my type," that she's a liar and so forth.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Trump testified yesterday. What did he have to say?

BERNSTEIN: Not a whole lot. Trump clearly regrets the decision not to testify or even show up in the first trial, so this trial, he won't stay away, creating a scene where reporters start lining up in the rain or snow before dawn. He comes with a large entourage crammed into the courtroom. It's not a large room, so he can easily be heard denying the assault from the defense table.

Yesterday, out of the presence of the jury, Trump said, ugh, when the judge described in graphic terms the assault that Trump had been found to have committed. And Trump said from the defense table, I never met the woman; I don't know who the woman is - all of this while the judge was telling Trump he could not, by law, from the witness stand say he didn't commit the assault. That is clearly what Trump wanted to say.

MARTÍNEZ: And why couldn't he say that?

BERNSTEIN: So the judge explained this. The law does not allow you to relitigate a case where a jury has already found you liable. So that means you can't say things to the jury to confuse them, basically. There is cause for concern, the judge said yesterday, about whether Trump would abide by that. So to make sure that Trump did, the judge made Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba, say exactly what she was going to ask and what she expected Trump to say because if he violated a court order and said the things he was saying from the defense table from the witness stand, it could taint the whole trial.

MARTÍNEZ: So did the judge succeed in keeping Donald Trump from speaking out - you know, speaking out of order for the jury?

BERNSTEIN: Basically, yes. The plaintiffs had earlier played this videotaped deposition, the one where Trump called Carroll's suit a hoax and where he confused Carroll with his second wife, Marla Maples, and also where he acknowledged writing the defamatory statements. So then his lawyer asked him, did he stand by this deposition? One hundred percent was the answer. Did you deny the allegations because Ms. Carroll made an accusation, he was asked. Yes, I did. Did he instruct anyone to harm Ms. Carroll? He answered, I just wanted to defend myself, my family and the presidency, though the jury was instructed to disregard everything after defend myself.

After a few questions from the plaintiffs, Trump left the stand and then left the courtroom with his entourage, saying as he walked down the courtroom aisle, this is not America, which he repeated three times.

MARTÍNEZ: Closing arguments today, right? When might the jury get the case?

BERNSTEIN: The jury gets the case by lunchtime. They can deliberate as long as they like. But in the first E. Jean Carroll trial last May, when the decision was more complex, the jury came back so fast, I barely had time to eat my own lunch.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thanks.

BERNSTEIN: Bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrea Bernstein