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Trump plans to attend the start of new E. Jean Carroll defamation damages trial

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Fresh off his Iowa caucus victory, former President Trump goes on trial again today in New York. This trial is a civil suit brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll. It is the second such case to go to trial. Trump was already found liable last year for sexually assaulting Carroll and ordered to pay her $5 million. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering Carroll's litigation, and she is with us now to explain all this. Good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So, Andrea, so this is - let me just make sure I understand this. This is a second case, not a continuation of the first case. Why are there two E. Jean Carroll defamation cases?

BERNSTEIN: Both of the actions stem from an encounter Carroll had with Donald Trump in the 1990s in a dressing room in the Bergdorf Goodman department store. According to a jury finding in the first case to go to trial, by a preponderance of the evidence, Trump was found liable for sexually assaulting Carroll by penetrating her against her will. In a ruling last week, the trial judge went even further, saying, quote, "the fact that Mr. Trump sexually abused, indeed, raped Miss Carroll has been conclusively established." Decades after the assault, while Trump was president, Carroll published a book about it. Trump denied it and then defamed her, saying, she's not my type. That's the case that's going to trial today.

MARTIN: So is the former president expected to be at this trial?

BERNSTEIN: Trump did not attend the first trial at all, and the testimony was pretty graphic. Not only did Carroll testify about the assault, but so did other women who say Trump sexually attacked them. So it might seem, with a rally scheduled almost every night this week in New Hampshire, Trump would stay away. But, no, he says he wants to attend and he wants to testify. His lawyers tried to get the trial postponed again, claiming he had to travel for his wife's mother's funeral. But after Carroll's lawyers pointed out he had a rally scheduled on one of the days he wanted to be off for the funeral, the judge denied that request.

MARTIN: Has Trump indicated what he's going to say in his defense?

BERNSTEIN: That issue has been hotly contested in legal filings by lawyers on both sides. His lawyers say he should be able to talk about the circumstances surrounding the defamatory statements, what reporters had asked him, whether he was acting with hatred or ill will. But the judge has strongly admonished Trump not to try to claim he didn't assault Carroll. Carroll's lawyers already referred to Trump's outburst in the business fraud trial last week, when a judge told him he couldn't speak because he wouldn't agree to follow the rules and then Trump did anyway, attacking both the New York attorney general and the judge. Carroll's lawyers say if that happens in this case, there should be severe sanctions. And because this is a jury trial and it's in federal court in front of a no-nonsense judge, there could be.

MARTIN: When do we expect a verdict?

BERNSTEIN: So the trial goes today, tomorrow, Thursday, possibly Monday but will almost certainly end then. In the last E. Jean Carroll case, the verdict came back in just a couple of hours, so it could be fast. And remember, we're just talking about how much money Trump will have to pay, not if he did it. We could see right around the time of the New Hampshire primary he's ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars for defamation after a sexual assault, and he separately faces having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for business fraud in a verdict that is also expected this month.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thank you so much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Andrea Bernstein