Former President Donald Trump has been found liable for sexual abuse in a civil lawsuit on Tuesday. The case involved allegations that he raped a magazine columnist in a department-store dressing room nearly 30 years ago. The panel rejected the more serious allegation of rape but found him liable for defaming the victim and awarded her $5 million in damages. E. Jean Carroll, now 79, testified that Trump assaulted her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman in 1996 after a chance encounter in the luxury department store across the street from Trump Tower. She is one of more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment, and she went public with her allegation that Trump raped her in a memoir published in 2019.
Trump, 76, did not attend the trial in federal court in Manhattan, and his defense called no witnesses at the trial. He has insisted that he never met Carroll and dismissed her as a “nut job” who fabricated the story to gin up sales of her book. The judge had instructed the jury that it could consider whether the encounter amounted to rape or to a less serious form of assault, such as forcible touching or abuse. The defamation claim stemmed from dismissive comments Trump made about Carroll on social media, calling her claims a “hoax” and “con job.”
“I have absolutely no idea who this woman is. This verdict is a disgrace—a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time!” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social after the verdict. He has said he would appeal any verdict finding him culpable and awarding damages.
The legal standard for liability in a civil lawsuit is lower than in a criminal case. In a civil suit, liability only requires proving something likely occurred, whereas in a criminal matter, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Trump has not been convicted of any crime.
The verdict is the latest in a string of legal issues weighing on Trump. In April, he was indicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records in relation to hush-money payments to women shopping stories of having had affairs with him. Trump pleaded not guilty. He is also under investigation for alleged election tampering in Georgia. Meanwhile, a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department is investigating Trump’s possession of classified documents at his home in Florida, as well as whether he bears responsibility for helping foment the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters who falsely believed he had won reelection in 2020.
The #MeToo movement took center stage in the trial, as it was the first time a former U.S. president has been sued for sexual assault. According to Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, the jury’s decision marks a turning point for women who are survivors of sexual violence. “This case has moved the needle on how we talk about and think about sexual assault as survivors know it and as the law has struggled to recognize it. It is a brave thing to stand up and have your voice heard,” she said.
Meanwhile, Trump’s legal team expressed disappointment in the verdict, maintaining the former president’s innocence. “We strongly disagree with the decision and will be appealing,” the team said in a statement.
The verdict is expected to have political implications, as Trump has repeatedly suggested he will run for president again in 2024. Whether or not this verdict is a disqualifying factor for his next presidential run remains to be seen.