NEW YORK – Mrs Nikki Haley criticised Donald Trump on Jan 26, saying that “America can do better than Donald Trump and Joe Biden”, after a New York jury ordered former president Trump to pay US$83.3 million (S$111.7 million) for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll.
It was the latest iteration of Mrs Haley’s new attack line against Trump, portraying another Trump presidency as equally for the country as another four years of Mr Biden.
Mrs Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, began making similar statements after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis dropped out of the race on Jan 21, leaving her as the last serious threat to Trump’s candidacy.
“Donald Trump wants to be the presumptive Republican nominee, and we’re talking about US$83 million in damages,” wrote the former United Nations ambassador on social media, adding that Trump’s legal troubles continued to be a distraction. “We’re not talking about fixing the border. We’re not talking about tackling inflation.”
Mrs Haley is preparing for what may be the final stand of her presidential campaign, facing off against Trump in February in a critical primary in her home state of South Carolina.
She has largely avoided commenting on Trump’s legal cases, but the former president leads her by wide margins in polls, and she appears to be turning up the heat in an effort to catch him.
Trump lashed out on social media soon after the verdict, attacking the civil trial as a “Biden-directed witch-hunt” despite the fact that Ms Carroll sued Trump in 2019, before he had left office, and while Mr Biden was just one of many Democratic presidential candidates.
The verdict was an extraordinary moment for a front runner in a presidential nominating contest.
A jury gave Trump the US$83.3 million penalty for defamation just three days after he had won a second nominating contest – in New Hampshire, by 11 percentage points. Trump also faces 91 felony counts in four separate criminal cases.
“Absolutely ridiculous,” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social, of the verdict.
He added: “Our legal system is out of control and being used as a political weapon. They have taken away all First Amendment rights. This is not America!”
Surrogates for Trump’s campaign also criticised the verdict.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia wrote on social media that Trump “was denied a fair trial in New York where judges are now political” activists.
Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, who is seen by many to be in the running to be Trump’s vice-president, said the trial was an effort by Democrats to weaponise the justice system and “bankrupt” Trump.
Ms Carroll accused Trump in 2019 of raping her in a department store dressing room decades earlier. In May, a different Manhattan jury awarded her US$5 million after finding Trump liable for sexually abusing her and for defaming her in a social media post.
Senator Chris Coons, national co-chair of Mr Biden’s re-election campaign, said in an interview on CNN that the verdict “tells you something about” Trump’s character, adding that “this is someone who thinks that presidents should have immunity to allow them to do whatever they want”. NYTIMES
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