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A day before the N.H. primary, Trump could testify in a N.Y. courtroom


Testimony in writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation case against Donald Trump has been called off for the day. That's after a juror called in sick, and two members of Trump's legal team said they had been exposed to COVID on Friday. There was a chance that Donald Trump would have testified today. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was in the courtroom. Andrea, a bit of a letdown. What happened?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Everyone was there in the courtroom in preparation for Trump's testimony - Carroll's lawyers, Trump's civil and his criminal legal teams, press, including campaign reporters. The usually prompt Judge Lewis Kaplan did not enter the courtroom until almost 30 minutes after the trial's start time. He then informed the room of the sick juror and Trump attorney Alina Habba's exposure. Habba asked for a delay until Wednesday due to the New Hampshire primary. The judge ordered the jurors and legal team to take COVID tests and said he'd decide later today whether to hold court tomorrow, which he could do with fewer jurors by excusing the sick juror.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, now, Donald Trump is involved in a few legal cases. What's the issue in this particular case?

BERNSTEIN: So the issue in this case is how much Donald Trump will have to pay E. Jean Carroll for the harm she says she suffered in the wake of statements he made while he was president, calling her a liar and saying, quote, "she's not my type." In dramatic testimony last week, Carroll described how in June of 2019, while alone in a hotel room in Manhattan the night her account was published in New York magazine of her sexual assault, she began receiving a torrent of messages from supporters of Donald Trump, calling her a hag, a liar, ugly, deserving to be raped and even murdered. When asked by her lawyers when that stopped, she replied, the messages never stopped, that each time Donald Trump makes a statement disparaging her, she receives what she called a flood of slime. And Trump hasn't stopped. Just this weekend, he posted on social media, quote, "I've said it once, and I'll say it again a thousand times - I never heard of E. Jean Carroll." He added, "the whole thing is made up and a disgusting hoax."

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and he can get in trouble for that.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah, he can. Carroll's lawyer said in a court filing over the weekend they'll put Trump's statements from last week into evidence. And in a pretrial order, Judge Lewis Kaplan told the Trump side Trump could not deny that he'd committed assault because that was already established last May in E. Jean Carroll's first assault and defamation trial. This lawsuit is over the statements Trump made in 2019 while president. Those are the ones that Carroll said really hurt her reputation. She said prior to that, she was known as a sunny advice columnist, telling people, for example, how to keep their marriages together - but that after Trump's remarks, a sizable portion of the country no longer finds her credible.

MARTÍNEZ: What kind of damages might the jury order?

BERNSTEIN: The jury could order Trump to pay compensatory damages for the two statements. But - and the judge has already pointed this out to the jury - they can determine punitive damages based on how much money it could take to get Trump to stop. By way of comparison, late last year, in an unrelated defamation trial, an unrepentant Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York and a Trump ally, was ordered to pay nearly $150 million in his defamation suit. So that's the kind of territory we may be in.

MARTÍNEZ: So then why would Trump want to testify?

BERNSTEIN: Trump's lawyers say he wants to give context for the remarks that he made while president. The usual strategy would be to keep quiet (ph). But Trump has made it clear that he wants to testify in court. While watching some of the statements he made, he could be heard at the defense table saying, that's true. You know, he could face sanctions from the judge, but Trump's made it clear he wants to speak directly to the jury.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks a lot.

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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrea Bernstein
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