Donald Trump has been found liable for the sexual abuse of a journalist in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s, in a significant legal defeat for the former US president as he mounts a third bid for the White House.
A nine-person jury deliberated for just a few hours before unanimously finding Trump liable for battery and defamation, while clearing him of a separate claim of rape in the lawsuit brought by E Jean Carroll, a former advice columnist and television presenter. The jury awarded her a total of $5mn in damages.
“Today, the world finally knows the truth,” Carroll said in a statement. “This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
In a statement on social media after the verdict, Trump said: “I have absolutely no idea who this woman is. This verdict is a disgrace — a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time!” His campaign indicated he would appeal against the verdict.
The decision comes as Trump, who faces a number of legal challenges including criminal charges over “hush money” payments allegedly made to porn star Stormy Daniels, embarks on his campaign to become the Republican nominee for president for a third time. Recent polling indicates that the 76-year-old remains overwhelmingly popular among rightwing voters.
Carroll, 79, first accused Trump of rape in a magazine article published in 2019, in which she alleged she had met the then future president, then a real estate mogul, at Bergdorf Goodman’s Fifth Avenue flagship store sometime in 1995 or 1996.
She claimed that while helping Trump pick out a present, he led her to a dressing room where he pushed her against a wall and sexually assaulted her. Carroll sued Trump last year, after a law passed in New York allowed claims previously barred by the statute of limitations to be resurrected.
Trump waived his right to testify in his own defence during the two-week trial, even declining the judge’s offer to consider a last-minute appearance. His lawyers rested their case on Thursday, calling no witnesses of their own, and relying entirely on discrediting what they called a “conspiracy” against the former president by Carroll.
In a sworn deposition taken by Carroll’s lawyers in October — and played to the court — Trump said he had no recollection of meeting his accuser, referring to her as a “whack job” and describing her complaint as a “hoax”.
He insinuated that he could not have raped Carroll as she was “not my type”, despite confusing her with his second wife Marla Maples in a photograph.
As deliberations were set to begin Tuesday, Trump claimed on social media that he had not been “allowed to speak” or defend himself, and accused Carroll of “working with the press”.
In closing arguments on Monday, Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan depicted the case as “Trump’s word against everyone else’s word”, highlighting the similarities between her client’s account of the alleged rape, and testimony given to the court by two other accusers of the former president, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff.
“He kissed them without their consent. He grabbed them. He didn’t wait,” Kaplan said, alluding to Trump’s words in the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which he bragged about grabbing women’s’ genitals. The tape, which was first made public during the 2016 election, was repeatedly played to the jury by Carroll’s legal team.
Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for Trump, conceded that the video was “rude and crude” and said the former president had apologised for making the off-camera comments years ago. “I would knock my boys’ teeth out if they talked like that,” he told jurors on Monday. “But that doesn’t make Ms Carroll’s unbelievable story believable.”
Trump cannot be jailed as a result of the lawsuit, which was civil rather than criminal in nature. Jurors merely needed to decide that the “preponderance of the evidence” was in Carroll’s favour.
In a statement following the verdict, Kaplan said it was “a victory not only for E Jean Carroll, but for democracy itself, and for all survivors everywhere”.