Donald Trump has already been indicted over an alleged hush money payout to porn star Stormy Daniels, but his legal problems are far from over; the former president has also been found liable for sexual assault and defamation relating to an encounter with E. Jean Carroll, a writer who accused him of rape.
What were the facts of the trial?
Despite the crux of the case being about an alleged rape, Trump was not being sued criminally for assault. Rather, Carroll sued Trump for defamation in civil court related to comments he made after her accusations came to light.
The case centered around Carroll's claim that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in Manhattan in the 1990s. Carroll, a former magazine columnist, first made the accusation in a 2019 memoir. She claims she ran into Trump at the luxury store Bergdorf Goodman, where he allegedly asked her for help picking out a gift for a woman. She then "eventually accompanied him to the lingerie department where, she contends, he maneuvered her into a dressing room and raped her," The New York Times reports.
Trump had called Carroll's accusation "a con job," a "hoax" and "a complete scam," according to NBC News, at one point even claiming it was unconstitutional. He also said the writer was "not my type," despite reportedly misidentifying a picture of her as his ex-wife Marla Maples. Carroll then sued him for defamation, alleging his actions caused significant damage to her personal and professional life. She also sued him for battery related to the psychological trauma he caused her. "As a result of the pain and suffering caused by Trump's sexual assault, Carroll has not been able to sustain a romantic relationship since the day Trump raped her," the lawsuit read, per NPR.
The trial, much like that of Trump's ongoing hush money indictment, was a high-profile one. The judge even ordered that jurors in the case be kept anonymous, since Trump "repeatedly has attacked courts, judges, various law enforcement officials, and other public officials, and even individual jurors in other matters," he wrote in a filing.
Though her allegations were beyond the statute of limitations, Carroll was able to file the suit because of a new law in New York called the Adult Survivors Act. Passed in May 2022, the law allows victims of abuse a one-time chance to file a civil lawsuit, even if the statute of limitations has passed. Carroll filed her suit on the first day the act was passed, the Times reports.
The writer first sued Trump for defamation back in 2019, but the case was tied up while he was in office and has still never gone to trial.
What happened during the trial?
Carroll recounted her version of the assault under oath.
"I'm here because Donald Trump raped me and when I wrote about it, he said it didn't happen," Carroll said upon taking the witness stand. "He lied and shattered my reputation, and I'm here to try and get my life back." She then recounted the assault, later breaking into tears. "To be able to get my day in court, finally, is everything to me," she said, per the Times. "I'm crying because I'm happy I got to tell my story in court." She testified for more than two full trial days.
Ultimately, after a two-week trial and just three hours of deliberation, the jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll and awarded her $5 million. The jury did not, however, find that Trump had raped Carroll, as she has long claimed. The decision nonetheless represented "a significant defeat for the former president," says CNN.
Per the Times, Carroll said in a statement that she had filed the lawsuit "to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed."
Meanwhile, Trump wrote on Truth Social that he has "no idea who this woman, who made a false and totally fabricated accusation, is," adding that he would appeal the court's ruling. Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, told Good Morning America that Trump has "no legitimate arguments for appeal."
How will this affect Trump's presidential run?
GOP reactions to the ruling appear mixed, The Washington Post reports. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Trump's legal issues have "a cumulative effect. People are going to have to decide whether they want to deal with all the drama." Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is also running for the Republican nomination, called the case "another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump."
But others have cautioned that voters have already made up their minds regarding Trump's personal life. Seventy percent of Republicans said they would still back the former president despite his legal troubles, according to an NBC News survey of 292 GOP voters. But if nothing else, Carroll's lawsuit could also wind up "giving ammunition to his opponents who've suggested he has too much baggage to run successfully," Vox notes.
Update May 10, 2023: This article has been updated to reflect the verdict in the trial.