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Trump trial: The 2nd defamation case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll begins

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In between campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, former President Trump stopped in New York City yesterday for one of his many, many court cases. This time, it's a defamation lawsuit, the second one brought against him by the writer E. Jean Carroll. NPR's Ximena Bustillo is here to tell us more. Good morning.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So what is it like when Trump shows up for one of these things?

BUSTILLO: Well, there definitely is a lot of focus on his presence. He is not always required to be in court, and he wasn't there for the last E. Jean Carroll trial. And so this is a choice as well. But he has used these trial presences to accuse the trials of being election interference. You know, as you said, he was there in between campaign stops. So he says he has to be there. It's also his right to be there, so he feels obligated, and therefore, that's taking time away from his campaign.

INSKEEP: Ah.

BUSTILLO: He blasts this online. And so, you know, this is a really interesting lawsuit because it was brought by writer and columnist E. Jean Carroll. It is the second trial, as I just mentioned. And last year, Trump was found liable for sexually assaulting Carroll in a Manhattan department store in the '90s. But she filed a lawsuit against him, arguing that he also defamed her in 2019 when denying her allegations and saying, quote, "she's not my type." These statements were also made while he was president in 2019.

So Attorney General Bill Barr, who was appointed by Trump to run the Justice Department, said the statements were made in Trump's official capacity as president, and so they were protected statements. But last summer, the Biden administration's Justice Department reversed its decision that Trump had this immunity, allowing the trial to proceed. One thing to remember is we're only talking this time about how much money Trump will have to pay Caroll, not if he assaulted her, because that's already been found that he was liable for that as well as liable for defaming her.

INSKEEP: OK, so it's just about a dollar figure here. Both teams have given their opening arguments. What happens today?

BUSTILLO: So today, testimony will begin with the plaintiff team going first. E. Jean Carroll herself is expected to take the witness stand. And we are also expecting to hear from Ashlee Humphreys, who's an expert witness on damages. She testified on Carroll's behalf in the previous defamation trial. Jurors will also hear from a former editor of Elle magazine, where Carroll was a columnist. And after that, the defense will have the opportunity to put up their witnesses, which could include the testimony of Trump himself, though that's likely to come at a later date. Still, though, this trial is actually expected to move very quickly and be wrapped up by mid-next week.

INSKEEP: If - I guess if it's just about how much money, it can be relatively simple. So what arguments do each side make?

BUSTILLO: Well, Carroll's team is arguing that, as President, Trump used the biggest microphone to attack her and humiliate her by accusing her of lying. During opening statements, they said that supporters of Trump sent Carroll rape and death threats following the comments made by Trump. Yesterday, during the first day, Trump posted also more than 20 messages on social media accusing her of having a fake story, which they made sure to mention during court - Carroll's lawyers did. Trump's lawyers, meanwhile, are prepared to argue that Carroll got what she wanted, which is more fame. So again, this trial is not expected to last very long. The judge said it may only go until Monday, so there could be a decision by the end of the month.

INSKEEP: Ximena, thanks for your insights. Really appreciate it.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ximena Bustillo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.