The $83.3m verdict against Donald Trump in the defamation case brought by the writer E Jean Carroll over her allegation of sexual assault was celebrated by opponents of the former president, analysed by legal experts and excoriated by the presumptive 2024 Republican White House nominee and his loyal supporters.
Trump called the verdict “absolutely ridiculous” and claimed it was part of a Joe “Biden-directed witch hunt” against “me and the Republican party”.
The new damages verdict followed an award of about $10m against Trump last May, when another New York jury found him liable for sexually abusing Carroll in a department store changing room in the mid-1990s.
Immediately after the verdict, Jon Cooper, a Democratic operative and activist, tweeted: “$7.3m in compensatory damages, $11m to repair [Carroll’s] reputation, and $65m in punitive damages. Trump is so screwed!!”
From his plane, having left the courtroom as Carroll’s lawyers spoke, Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform: “Absolutely ridiculous! I fully disagree with both verdicts and will be appealing this whole Biden-directed witch hunt focused on me and the Republican party. 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!”
The president has nothing to do with the Carroll case, which is one of a number involving Trump as he runs to return to the Oval Office.
Trump also faces 91 criminal charges over election subversion, retention of classified information and hush money payments; civil suits over his business affairs; and attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting an insurrection with his supporters’ January 6 attack on Congress.
Regardless, he dominates the Republican party and its presidential primary.
Outside court, Carroll did not comment, simply smiling as her lawyers accompanied her to a waiting car.
Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, protested angrily, saying: “I’m not having any second thoughts about representing President Trump. It is the proudest thing I could ever do. What I’m having second thoughts about is the [law] license that I stand here with, that the people in there are supposed to have.”
Habba, who was warned by the judge over her behaviour in court, bemoaned a supposed “violation of our justice system” and made unsupported accusations about malpractice and bias.
Among Trump’s allies in Congress, the far-right Florida representative Matt Gaetz complained: “A country where you cannot deny a fantastical, false allegation is not a free country.”
But among Trump’s many opponents, schadenfreude was in ample supply.
Rick Wilson, a former Republican operative turned co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, pondered the effect of the verdict on the billionaire former president’s increasingly battered finances – but also his success in raising money from his political supporters.
“Donald Trump’s gonna need to sell some more hats,” Wilson wrote.
Trump won Republican presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire this month and has been pressuring his last remaining rival, the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, to drop out before the primary reaches her state.
New York University law professor Ryan Goodman considered what the new verdict in the Carroll case might mean for Trump’s political fortunes.
“So far Trump has defied gravity,” Goodman wrote, “… but for how much longer? Social science research suggests a politician will pay a heavy price with voters for sexual assault. Major $83m verdict amplifies that prospect.”
Even on Fox News, a rightwing network generally supportive of the former president, John Yoo, a former deputy assistant attorney general, saw nothing but bad news.
“The whole point of these unprecedented damages is to tell Donald Trump to shut up,” Yoo said. “You could think of it this way: every time Donald Trump wants to insult [E] Jean Carroll, he’s gonna have to write a $40m check for each sentence. That’s how bad this is.
“I can’t believe his lawyers haven’t succeeded in just telling him, ‘Campaign for president, run for president, make your accusations about a two-tiered justice system. But leave this alone.’”
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