A federal jury has agreed Friday that Donald Trump must pay E. Jean Carroll $83.3 million for defaming her.
Trump’s motorcade left the courthouse 20 minutes before the verdict was announced.
The unanimous jury verdict in Manhattan comes as Trump remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination for a likely rematch with President Joe Biden in November.
“We’re very happy,” Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, told Business Insider soon after the verdict was read.
Carroll did not provide a verbal comment to Business Insider about how she felt about the verdict, but pursed her lips in a smile and looked up at the ceiling.
After the judge left the bench, Carroll, Kaplan, and a third attorney, Shawn Crowley, held each other in a three-woman hug
Soon, all 11 members of her legal team were in tears, hugging and smiling.
Trump’s legal team left quickly and showed no emotion.
His attorney, Alina Habba, later spoke outside the courthouse, promising to appeal the verdict “immediately.”
In May of last year, the former president lost a separate civil trial where a jury in the same courtroom found that he sexually abused Carroll, an advice columnist and former journalist for Elle, in the mid-1990s. The jury also agreed that he defamed her by calling her a liar when he denied her allegations.
The jury in the 2023 case awarded Carroll $5 million in total damages.
This month’s trial is over a lawsuit filed in 2019 — earlier than the other case — over two statements Trump made denying Carroll’s allegations.
For years, Carroll’s first lawsuit bounced between courts, which fretted over legal questions of whether Trump could be held liable for statements he made from the White House. Eventually, the US Justice Department determined that Trump’s statements addressing rape allegations had nothing to do with his role as president, and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump waived the protections of the presidency anyway because his lawyers failed to follow the proper court procedures.
By the time the case went to trial this month, it had amassed potency. Carroll’s lawyers argued that on top of damages to compensate her, the jury should award enormous punitive damages to stop him from defaming her. Only a massive award, her lawyers argued, would sufficiently deter his continued attacks.
The jury in Carroll’s first trial heard her testify in graphic detail about Trump’s assault. The two bumped into each other in Bergdorf Goodman, a high-end department store near Trump Tower in Manhattan. Trump asked for Carroll’s help shopping for lingerie for a female friend. Carroll, thinking his request would make a good story, agreed to help.
The two eventually made their way to the store’s lingerie section changing rooms on the top floor. There, Trump pressed her against the wall and inserted his “curved finger” into her vagina, she testified.
Jurors also heard testimony from two of Carroll’s friends, who she confided in around the time of the assault. They also heard from Jessica Leeds and Natasha Storynoff, who had accused Trump of sexual assault in separate incidents. Their accounts of how Trump allegedly preyed on them and denied it later resembled the playbook he used to falsely deny Carroll’s allegations.
The second trial, held over two weeks this month, was far more limited in scope.
Because Trump’s liability in sexually assaulting and defaming Carroll had already been established, all that needed to be decided in the second trial was damages.
Overall, the jury Friday awarded Carroll $65 million in punitive damages and $18.3 million in compensatory damages.
In the trial, Carroll testified about the danger she felt after the flood of death threats that came from Trump supporters when he falsely denied the sexual assault. The 80-year-old writer bought bullets for a gun she now keeps next to her bed. While she had previously spent a long career writing magazine stories and a beloved advice column, she became associated only for her claims against Trump — and his accusations that she was a liar.
Jurors also heard from a reputational expert, Ashlee Humphries, who testified it could cost about $12 million to run a reputational repair campaign to compensate Carroll for the damage Trump wrought to her reputation.
Judge Kaplan forbade Trump or his attorneys from arguing that he didn’t sexually assault Carroll. But they tried to make that case anyway, in testimony and argument that the judge struck from the record.
On the witness stand, Trump said he denied Carroll’s accurate claims because he “wanted to defend myself.” The judge told the jury to disregard his comments.
In her closing argument, Trump’s attorney Alina Habba said Trump had “a right to defend himself.”
“You have a constitutional right to some speech and not others,” Judge Kaplan said after one of Carroll’s lawyers objected.
In closing arguments for Carroll Friday morning, her attorney Roberta Kaplan (who is not related to the judge), argued that Trump acted as if he was above the law by lying. Trump “ignored the other jury verdict as if it never happened” and even repeated the claims at a press conference during the second trial, she pointed out.
“Donald Trump engaged in the very same defamation after the trial,” Roberta Kaplan said.
At that point, Trump — who had looked agitated and whispered furiously to Habba throughout Kaplan’s closing argument — stood up, buttoned his suit jacket, and walked out of the courtroom.
Carroll’s lawyer asked for enormous punitive damages. She pointed to deposition testimony Trump gave in a separate lawsuit, where the New York attorney general’s office claims he falsified the value of his assets to obtain favorable bank loan and interest rates. In that lawsuit, Trump said the worth of the Trump Organization’s properties and brand value could add up to as much as $14 billion. A decision is expected in that case next month.
Forbes has estimated Trump’s personal net worth at around $2.6 billion.
“For most people, losing a trial would be enough to stop you from breaking the law,” Kaplan said. “But not this one.”
Repeatedly violating courtroom rules
Trump and Habba regularly broke court protocol, leading to Judge Kaplan chastising her numerous times. Kaplan, renowned for his command of the courtroom, several times told Trump to quiet down and threatened to kick him out after he heckled Carroll while sitting at the defense table.
Before the closing arguments on Friday morning, Habba became frustrated when the judge forbade her from including examples of tweets not entered into evidence during the trial in her jury presentation.
“No. No. Your honor, I have been—” Habba began to say.
“Ms. Habba, you are on the verge of spending some time in the lockout,” the judge said, cutting her off. “Now sit down.”
“Fuck it,” Habba muttered as she took her seat.
During her closing argument, her voice dripping with disdain, Habba pointed out that Carroll invited the attention Trump bestowed upon her by denying he raped her. She said Trump should not be responsible for “people in their mothers’ basements” sending cruel tweets to Carroll.
“President Trump should not have to pay for their threats,” Habba said. “He does not condone them. He does not endorse them. All he did was tell his truth.”
Closing out with a rebuttal argument, Shawn Crowley, an attorney for Carroll, pointed out that Trump could have simply told the truth and admitted he sexually assaulted Carroll — or at least said he would deal with the issue privately rather than blast her in an interview from the Oval Office. Had Trump taken a truthful approach, none of the jurors would even be there, Crowley said.
“‘His truth was a lie,” Crowley said. “And he had no right to say it. That may be how Donald Trump lives his life. Telling a ‘truth’ that is a lie. But that is not how the law works.”
At the end of the instructions, Kaplan said the jury’s role upheld the US Constitution’s promise of “we the people” carrying the role to “establish justice” in the country.
In his jury instructions, Judge Kaplan reminded the nine New Yorkers sitting there that they must accept Trump’s sexual assault as an already-established fact.
He noted the US District Court in the Southern District of New York, where the jury sat, is the first operating court in the United States — even before the Supreme Court started hearing cases.
As Judge Kaplan read a passage from the Constitution, Trump shifted in his seat.
The judge reminded the jury to accept the earlier trial’s verdict.
When he noted the trial established Trump “inserted his finger into her vagina,” the former president jolted from his seat and wore an expression of disgust.