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Second E. Jean Carroll trial against Trump begins in New York

In a courtroom sketch, writer E. Jean Carroll reacts as the verdict is read in the civil rape accusation case against former president Donald Trump, in New York on May 9. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)
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NEW YORK — A civil defamation trial against former president Donald Trump began Tuesday in New York to determine what additional damages, if any, he owes E. Jean Carroll, a writer who in 2019 accused him of sexually assaulting her decades earlier.

A jury in a separate civil case last year found that Trump sexually abused and defamed Carroll and owed her $5 million in damages. The trial that started Tuesday is focused on whether he owes Carroll additional damages for separate comments he made about her.

During opening statements Tuesday, attorneys for Carroll and Trump presented clashing depictions of what happened after she first publicly accused him of assault. Trump responded to Carroll’s accusations with vehement denials, with the then-president saying that she was “totally lying” and “not my type.” Trump’s comments only intensified the trauma endured by Carroll and sparked a flood of harassment, her attorney said in court Tuesday.

“He was president, and when he spoke, the world listened,” said Shawn Crowley, an attorney for Carroll. “He had the biggest microphone on the planet, and for the next week he used it to tear her reputation to shreds, to defame her.”

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Trump’s defense team argued that he was only defending himself, and that rather than seeing her reputation destroyed by his rhetoric, Carroll’s profile only continued to grow.

“This is someone who craves fame and seeks fame wherever she can get it,” Alina Habba, an attorney for Trump, said during her opening remarks. And Carroll, she said, “is now more famous than she has ever been in her life and loved and respected by many, which was her goal.”

The attorneys’ remarks kicked off a trial that is limited in scope but high in scrutiny. It is the second time in less than a year that Carroll has squared off with Trump in court.

Carroll, who is expected to testify Wednesday, has said previously that after she and Trump happened to bump into each other at Bergdorf Goodman, an upscale Manhattan department store, in the mid-1990s, he attacked her inside a dressing room.

She also sued him for battery and defamation, and the jury hearing that civil case found last year that Trump sexually abused and defamed Carroll. Trump is appealing, and he has continued to angrily denounce Carroll and ridicule her cases against him.

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On Tuesday, a jury was seated to hear Carroll’s other lawsuit, in which she accuses him of defaming her when he initially denied her claims in 2019.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who oversaw last year’s trial and is on the bench for this one, ruled in September that the jury verdict in the previous case demonstrated Trump’s comments about Carroll were false. Rather than re-litigating her accusations, Kaplan has said, this new trial will focus instead only on the damages question.

A Manhattan jury on May 9 found that former president Donald Trump sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll and awarded her $5 million in damages. (Video: HyoJung Kim/The Washington Post, Photo: AP/The Washington Post)

Kaplan wrote in an order last week that “the material facts concerning the alleged sexual assault have already been determined, and this trial will not be a ‘do over’ of the previous trial.” The judge also wrote that Trump was blocked “from offering any testimony, evidence, or argument suggesting or implying that he did not sexually assault Ms. Carroll.”

Trump did not attend the trial last year, even after threatening to come and “confront” her. But he was present Tuesday to watch jury selection in this case, making it the first time he and Carroll were in a courtroom at the same time.

When Trump entered the courtroom and sat at the defense table, Carroll continued to face straight ahead and did not appear to look at him. The defense is expected to call Trump to testify.

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Trump’s schedule before and after the court appearance illustrated how tangled his political and legal calendars are this year. The former president is the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, and he traveled to New York not long after winning the Iowa caucuses.

By the time opening statements began in the defamation case, Trump was already out of the courtroom ahead of a scheduled event in New Hampshire, which has its presidential primary next week.

In addition to the New York civil defamation case, Trump is the defendant in four separate criminal cases. He has denied any wrongdoing and framed the cases against him — criminal and civil alike — as politically motivated.

Early Tuesday, potential jurors answered questions ahead of the selection of a nine-member panel. With Trump looking on, they discussed their lives and the types of news they consumed.

Jurors in the case will remain anonymous, something Kaplan reiterated in court Tuesday. In both of Carroll’s lawsuits, Kaplan has directed that jurors’ identities be shielded, pointing to Trump’s rhetoric concerning cases against him and raising the possibility that members of the jury could face harassment if their identities emerged.

Kaplan also emphasized what the jury is meant to decide in this case.

“The court determined in a previous decision that Mr. Trump is liable for defamation [on two occasions in 2019],” Kaplan told potential jurors Tuesday. “For purposes of this trial it has been determined already that Mr. Trump did sexually assault Ms. Carroll, that he knew when he made the statements about Ms. Carroll that the statements were false, or he made them with reckless disregard as to whether they were true or false.”

Before potential jurors entered the room, Kaplan appeared noticeably irked by the Trump side’s behavior.

He previously rejected a request to delay the trial a week because of the funeral for Trump’s mother-in-law. Kaplan said he would let Trump testify next week.

Habba asked Tuesday for a one-day adjournment, which Kaplan rejected. When Habba said she didn’t have proper notice of witnesses for Carroll’s side, Kaplan cut into her argument, saying she has “had a witness list for months.”

Trump, for his part, has continued assailing the case and Carroll, posting to social media Tuesday comments belittling the judge and ridiculing the case as “PURE FICTION!”

Crowley highlighted Trump’s repeated social media postings criticizing Carroll, including his commentary Tuesday. She asked jurors to “think about that when you consider how much money it will take to get him to stop.”

Habba, meanwhile, said Carroll only benefited from the attention she received, saying “her career has prospered.” While people on social media posted critically about Carroll, she also received praise from Trump critics, Habba said.

“If you make explosive allegations against a sitting president, no matter who the president is, people are going to react, both good and bad,” Habba said.

Berman reported from Washington. Marianne LeVine in Manchester, N.H.; Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff in Washington; and Wesley Parnell in New York contributed to this report.