As Trump Continues to Insult E. Jean Carroll, 2nd Defamation Trial Opens

A Manhattan jury will be asked a narrow question this week: How much money must former President Donald J. Trump pay the writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him of raping her?

Ms. Carroll’s chance encounter decades ago at the Bergdorf Goodman department store, in which she said Mr. Trump shoved her against a dressing room wall, pulled down her tights and forced himself on her, was already the focus of a trial last year. A jury in May awarded Ms. Carroll just over $2 million for the assault and nearly $3 million for defamation over Mr. Trump’s remark in October 2022 calling her claim “a complete con job.”

The trial starting Tuesday focuses on separate statements by Mr. Trump in June 2019, directly after Ms. Carroll disclosed her allegation in New York magazine. At the time, Mr. Trump called her claim “totally false,” saying that he had never met Ms. Carroll, a former Elle magazine advice columnist, and that she invented a story to sell a book.

Now, Mr. Trump says he wants to attend and testify at Ms. Carroll’s trial, something he didn’t do in the earlier case. That’s sparked a bitter dispute between lawyers for Ms. Carroll, 80, and Mr. Trump, 77, over what the former president could say if he took the stand, and whether he would stray beyond strict boundaries the judge has set.

The judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, has ruled that given the jury’s findings in the first trial, Mr. Trump cannot now contest Ms. Carroll’s version of events — as he frequently does in public statements.

“Mr. Trump is precluded from offering any testimony, evidence or argument suggesting or implying that he did not sexually assault Ms. Carroll, that she fabricated her account of the assault or that she had any motive to do so,” Judge Kaplan wrote in an opinion on Jan. 9.

The judge had also previously ruled that Ms. Carroll does not need to prove again that Mr. Trump’s comments in 2019 were defamatory, finding they were substantially the same as those that prompted last year’s award.

“This trial will not be a ‘do over’ of the previous trial,” Judge Kaplan wrote on Jan. 9.

Ms. Carroll is seeking $10 million in damages for harm to her reputation, plus unspecified punitive damages, which are intended to deter misconduct.

Still, Mr. Trump continues to attack her relentlessly, repeating that he had never met Ms. Carroll and denying that he assaulted her. Minutes after the verdict last year, he began to issue a stream of blistering posts on his Truth Social website, and later he went on CNN, where he called Ms. Carroll a “wack job” and said the trial was “a rigged deal.”

In recent weeks, he has escalated those attacks. On a single day at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, he issued a rapid stream of more than 40 derisive Truth Social posts, stunning some advisers with the fusillade. On Jan. 6, while campaigning in Iowa, he said again that Ms. Carroll had faked her story.

Then on Thursday, when Mr. Trump was allowed to speak in court during New York’s civil fraud trial against him, he assailed a judge to his face. Afterward, Mr. Trump announced he would attend Ms. Carroll’s trial, “and I’m going to explain I don’t know who the hell she is.”

On Friday, Ms. Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, wrote to Judge Kaplan in federal court, saying that if Mr. Trump appeared at the trial as a witness or otherwise, “his recent statements and behavior strongly suggest that he will seek to sow chaos.”

“There are any number of reasons why Mr. Trump might perceive a personal or political benefit from intentionally turning this trial into a circus,” Ms. Kaplan said. (She is not related to Judge Kaplan.)

Ms. Kaplan asked that the judge, a veteran of nearly three decades on the bench, require Mr. Trump to state under oath that he understands what testimony is off-limits, like claiming he did not rape or know Ms. Carroll or questioning her motives.

Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, responded Sunday in a letter asking the judge to deny Ms. Kaplan’s request, saying it “proposed unprecedented hurdles.”

She said Mr. Trump was “well aware” of the court’s rulings “and the strict confines placed on his testimony.”

“We presume that this is not a kangaroo court of a third-world country,” Ms. Habba added, “where a party to a lawsuit is involuntarily made to say what a court and an opposing party wants them to say.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s attacks on Ms. Carroll have not ended. On Friday, Judge Kaplan denied Mr. Trump’s request to delay the trial for one week to allow him to travel to Florida for the funeral of Melania Trump’s mother.

Mr. Trump went on Truth Social, calling Judge Kaplan a “crazed, Trump hating Judge” who had presided over an “Election Interference Witch Hunt, disguised as a trial, of a woman I have never met before.”

”Can anyone imagine a husband not going to his wife’s mother’s funeral over a MADE UP STORY,” Mr. Trump blared.

Ms. Kaplan and Ms. Habba have declined to comment about the case in recent days. Legal experts, though, have been puzzling over Mr. Trump’s approach.

Rebecca Roiphe, a New York Law School professor who studies the legal profession, said, “Whenever I can’t figure out a Trump legal strategy, I usually think it’s not a legal strategy but in fact a public relations strategy.”

Mr. Trump probably assumes he will lose, she said. “He just wants to claim that this is a political hit job, and so he’s giving himself the material with which to do that.”

As for Ms. Carroll, a substantial punitive damages award could be the most effective way to stop Mr. Trump’s attacks, said Chris Mattei, a lawyer who in 2022 helped the families of eight people killed in the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., win $1.4 billion from Alex Jones, the Infowars conspiracy broadcaster.

“You would expect Ms. Carroll to present all the evidence available to her,” Mr. Mattei said, “to show that Donald Trump is recalcitrant and determined to continue to harm her.”

Ben Chew, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who represented the actor Johnny Depp in a defamation case against his ex-wife, said money is Mr. Trump’s vulnerable spot.

“It’s really the only avenue through which the court or the jury can put an end to this,” he said.

Mr. Trump has long been furious about Ms. Carroll’s allegations, and in private, he has repeatedly railed against her.

In the trial last spring, Ms. Carroll testified that the attack at Bergdorf’s came after she bumped into Mr. Trump one evening, and he asked her to help him buy a present for a female friend.

They ended up in the lingerie section, where he motioned her to a dressing room, shut the door and began assaulting her. Using his weight to pin her, he pulled down her tights and forced his fingers and then, she said, his penis into her vagina. The jury did not, however, find he had raped her.

Judge Kaplan has ruled that because the jury found that Mr. Trump had used his fingers to assault her, her rape claim was “substantially true under common modern parlance.”

Kellen Browning contributed reporting from Newton, Iowa, and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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