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Jury finds Trump liable for sexual abuse in E. Jean Carroll's civil case

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump has been found liable for sexually abusing and defaming columnist E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s. Today, a jury of three women and six men ordered him to pay $5 million in damages. Trump has faced multiple accusations of sexual assault since his 2016 presidential campaign, but this is the first time a jury has weighed in on the validity of those claims. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was in the courtroom when the jury delivered the verdict. She joins us now.

Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: This jury deliberated for fewer than three hours before sending out a note that said verdict. Tell us what happened next.

BERNSTEIN: Just after 3 o'clock, the jury filed in. The forewoman stood up and told the judge the jury had reached a verdict. Even though there were only two counts to decide on, the jury sheet had 10 separate questions. So on the charge of battery, the jury had to choose between three parts based on the preponderance of the evidence. Did Trump rape E. Jean Carroll? Did he sexually abuse her? Did he forcibly touch her? The jury answered no to the question did he rape her, but yes to sexual abuse. The judge had defined that in his instructions as sexual contact without her consent, using compulsion for the purpose of gratifying Trump's sexual desires. Once the jury answered yes to the sexual abuse component, that meant he was liable for battery.

PFEIFFER: And he was also found liable for defamation?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. Defamation the jury had to find by clear and convincing evidence, which is a higher standard than preponderance, that Trump made a false statement with actual malice when he called her allegations a con and a scam. So Trump was found liable on both counts with total damages set at $5 million. In the courtroom, as instructed, the lawyers for both sides were quiet. But some young associates from the law firm working for E. Jean Carroll started weeping as the verdict was read.

PFEIFFER: Do you have any sense how the jury was able to reach its verdict so quickly?

BERNSTEIN: The judge advised the jurors to remain anonymous, and they did not speak, but the case wasn't complex. There was Carroll's testimony that she was assaulted in the 1990s - and the two women she told at the time, both journalists. There were other victims who said Trump attacked them in a similar manner, which the judge said the jury could consider to buttress the credibility of Carroll's allegations. And then there was Trump himself who said on that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape that he liked to grab women by the genitals because when you're a star, they let you do it. All that, and no witnesses at all on Trump's side. The jury didn't believe his lawyers' arguments that it was all for Carroll's profit and political reasons. They said, in effect, this was no hoax.

PFEIFFER: And, Andrea, how are Trump or his lawyers responding?

BERNSTEIN: On his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump posted in defiance of the verdict, I have no idea who this woman is, and called the verdict a disgrace. Trump's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, told reporters after the verdict that Trump can't get a fair jury in New York, that it was wrong the "Access Hollywood" tape was played and that Trump would appeal.

PFEIFFER: As we mentioned, these are claims that deal with something that allegedly happened in the 1990s. It would typically be unusual to see a claim that old in court. But E. Jean Carroll brought her lawsuit under something called the Adult Survivors Act in New York. Would you explain that?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. This is a new law that passed in New York in the wake of the #MeToo movement that allows adults who say they were assaulted years ago to file a civil lawsuit after the statute of limitations for a criminal trial has passed. This case was filed the day the law went into effect, and it's the first case to come to trial. That could mean we'll see more of these cases. Women have until this November to file their claims. No one can be called a rapist or go to jail as a result of the law, but women can get monetary damages, like E. Jean Carroll.

PFEIFFER: Andrea, you have covered Trump's legal tangles since he's been president. What does this verdict today mean for him in the big picture?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So I've covered criminal and civil investigations and lawsuits and impeachment trials for many years. And even though Trump's company was found guilty last year of 17 felony counts of fraud, this is the first time since he became president that Trump himself was ordered to face a consequence - a finding of liability and being ordered to pay $5 million in damages. That is unprecedented in U.S. history. It means we have a man found liable by a jury for sexual assault as the Republican front-runner hoping to occupy the White House once again.

PFEIFFER: And, Andrea, briefly, this does not mark the end of Trump's legal troubles, is that correct?

BERNSTEIN: Nope. He faces criminal charges in New York over hush-money payments. He faces a $250 million civil trial, the possibility of charges in Georgia and investigations by the DOJ - special counsel Jack Smith - into his handling of classified documents and his efforts to undo the 2020 election.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Andrea Bernstein.

Thank you.

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

Andrea Bernstein