NEW YORK — Former President Trump took the stand in his defamation case brought by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll on Thursday for about two minutes in a brief, fiery moment that marked the final testimony before closing arguments.
Trump in the courtroom said nearly as much off the stand as he did while testifying.
“This is not America, not America, this is not America,” Trump said as he was exiting the courtroom, although the jury had already left at that point.
Trump’s testimony set up a critical moment in the case as he sought to stave off Carroll’s request for at least $10 million in damages for Trump’s denials that he sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s.
In the morning, Trump had appeared rather subdued in the courtroom, yawning at times and whispering to his lawyers.
But after lunch, when the trial moved to the issue of Trump’s testimony, the former president sat up straight as U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, a Clinton appointee, went back and forth with the lawyers.
Former President Donald Trump leaves his apartment building, Thursday, Jan 25, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
For years, Trump has publicly attacked Carroll’s credibility and appearance in the court of public opinion, including recently at campaign rallies and in spates of Truth Social posts.
But Kaplan had placed strict limits on what Trump could testify about in the courtroom, given that the trial is only being held on the narrow issue of damages.
As the judge went back and forth about the ground rules with Alina Habba, Trump’s lead attorney in the case, Trump repeatedly interrupted his lawyer.
“I never met the woman,” Trump told Habba.
She clenched her microphone, which had amplified the audio. The jury was not yet in the room.
After Kaplan told the former president to keep his voice down, he continued to try to talk to Habba.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, you’re interrupting the proceedings,” Kaplan then admonished the former president.
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Carroll, who herself testified last week, is suing Trump for defamation over his denials in 2019, when the former Elle columnist publicly accused Trump of sexually assaulting her decades earlier.
After Carroll last year secured a verdict finding Trump liable for sexual abuse, the judge found Trump automatically liable in the defamation case, so the current jury is only left to decide how much Trump must pay Carroll in addition to the $5 million she won last year.
While Trump recently took the stand in New York in his civil fraud trial involving his business empire, Thursday marked the first time Trump took the stand at either of Carroll’s trials.
After the jury entered, Habba called Trump as a witness and he was sworn in. Habba asked him whether he stood by his deposition, which the jury heard hours earlier, in which Trump again denied the assault.
“100 percent, yes,” Trump responded.
Habba also asked her client if he had instructed anyone to cause harm to Carroll.
“No, I just wanted to defend myself, my family,” Trump said.
Carroll’s lawyers’ cross-examination of Trump similarly took mere seconds. Trump shook his head from side to side at one point in between questions.
Speculation had run rampant about whether Trump would actually take the stand.
He and his legal team had sent increasing signals in recent days that the former president desired to do so, but Trump had backed out at the last minute in other cases.
Carroll’s lawyers previously questioned what Trump could testify about, given the narrow scope of the trial, raising concerns that Trump would use his testimony to turn “this trial into a circus.”
“In any event, even with the limitations placed on President Trump by the January 9, 2024 Order, he can still offer considerable testimony in his defense,” Habba had responded in court filings.
Trump’s testimony on Thursday followed a multi-day delay in the trial that began with COVID-related concerns.
After Trump finished testifying, his lawyers rested their case. Closing arguments are set for Friday morning.
Updated 3:14 p.m.