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Fresh off a campaign victory in Iowa, Donald Trump sat in a New York courtroom on Tuesday to defend himself for a second time against charges that he defamed writer E. Jean Carroll after she accused him of raping her decades ago.
Trump watched from the defendant’s table as his lawyers sparred with U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan over the ground rules of a civil case that will put allegations of misconduct back in the headlines while he pursues the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
He sat two tables behind Carroll, who is accusing Trump of defaming her in 2019 by denying he had attacked her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan. Carroll, 80, is seeking at least $10 million in damages.
Kaplan told prospective jurors they would only have to consider how much Trump should pay Carroll in damages, not whether the alleged assault took place or whether Trump lied about it afterward. He said the trial is expected to last three to five days.
Trump, 77, has said he wants to testify at the civil trial.
He could spend much of this year shuttling between campaign rallies and courtrooms, as he seeks to win the Republican presidential nomination for 2024.
He won the first state contest in Iowa on Monday by a wide margin, and opinion polls show him leading in the next contest in New Hampshire a week from today.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in four criminal cases that could potentially land him in prison before the November presidential election, including two that accuse him of trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
He also is a defendant in at least two other civil cases.
Trump has cast himself as the victim of political persecution. On Tuesday, he said Kaplan should dismiss the case.
“Judge Kaplan should put this whole corrupt, Crooked Joe Biden-directed Election Interference attack on me immediately to rest,” he posted on social media. “He should do it for America.”
Kaplan questioned more than 80 prospective jurors, and at least 30 said they had heard about the case. Their identities are being kept confidential.
Trump has already lost one defamation case against Carroll.
A jury last May ordered Trump to pay the former Elle magazine columnist $5 million for having sexually abused her during the encounter, and defaming her in 2022 by denying that it happened. Trump skipped that trial.
Kaplan, who has overseen both cases, has barred Trump from arguing that he did not defame or sexually assault Carroll or that she made up her account.
In both cases, Trump has said he did not know Carroll and that she invented their encounter to sell her memoir.
Trump is appealing the $5 million award, and could appeal any award at the second trial. Appeals could take years.
In recent weeks, Trump has escalated his attacks on Carroll, including a false accusation on social media this weekend that she did not know the decade of their encounter.
He also called Kaplan “terrible, biased, irrationally angry,” echoing attacks he has made on judges overseeing some of his other cases.
Trump may face an uphill fight to escape significant additional damages because of Kaplan’s pre-trial rulings.
These include banning Trump from suggesting he did not rape Carroll, as New York’s penal law defines the term, because the first jury did not find that Trump committed rape.
Kaplan has ruled that because Trump used his fingers in the assault, Carroll’s rape claim was “substantially true.”
Trump also cannot discuss DNA evidence or Carroll’s sexual activities, or suggest that Democrats are bankrolling her case. Carroll is a Democrat.
And as at the first trial, jurors will be able to see the 2005 “Access Hollywood” video where Trump graphically described the ability of famous people like himself to have sexual relations with beautiful women.
Trump did not retract his comments when asked about them in a 2022 deposition. Kaplan has said the video could offer “useful insight into Mr. Trump’s state of mind” toward Carroll.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba on Sunday assured Kaplan that he was “well aware” of the court’s rulings “and the strict confines placed on his testimony.”