A jury unanimously finds Donald Trump liable for sexual assault

“Would anyone believe that I would take an almost 60 year old woman I didn’t know [into a department-store dressing room] And … him,” Donald Trump asked his followers true social, a social-media platform, on 26 April. A New York jury on May 9 said that, in fact, yes they mostly did.

In a civil case, E. Jean Carroll, a writer, accused Mr Trump raped her in a Manhattan department store 25 years ago. A federal jury unanimously found that Mr Trump sexually assaulted her and defamed her while later denying her allegations. For this, he said that Trump would have to pay $5 million to Ms. Carroll. The jury did not agree that the assault was considered rape.

Although Mr. Trump will undoubtedly try to spin that last finding to his advantage, it was a terrible day for the former president. The ruling is the first major legal ruling against him since he has faced dozens of allegations and legal troubles since taking office. It is important. Whereas previously he might have dismissed accusations like Ms. Carroll’s, claiming that his accusers were politically motivated “hopeless jobs”, now nine ordinary citizens—six men and three women—have firmly concluded that They have done something wrong and they will have to pay for it.

Other victims of sexual assault can now take confidence from Ms Carroll’s success in court and decide to do the same. In New York, he has until November to bring historical allegations of sexual assault under a special “lookback window” law. As for Ms. Carroll, she has said that most of all she wants to clear her name, which this case emphatically did. ,

Historical claims of sexual abuse are notoriously difficult to prove in court. But as the case progressed last week, the belief grew that Mr Trump could continue to lose. The difference between Camp Carroll and Camp Trump was stark. Ms. Carroll’s testimony was emotional, composed and credible, and her attorneys systematically layered upon witness after witness to support their claims and make Mr. Trump’s behavior seem part of a broader pattern. They replayed the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Mr. Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals. To illustrate this, he presented the jury a chart with photographs of three women who testified that Mr Trump had assaulted them. Checkmarks next to the “Semi-public place”, “Catch a sudden” and “Not my type” columns.

Camp Trump, on the other hand, did not present any witnesses. Mr. Trump did not exercise his right to appear in court and testify. This was probably a relief to his lawyers; His client showed in a pre-filmed statement, parts of which were played during the trial, how loose he could be – also telling Ms Carroll’s lawyer that she was not his type either. Apart from the damning clip shown by Ms Carroll’s lawyers, the only thing the jury heard from the accused was their combative lawyer’s attack on their accusers.

Instead Mr. Trump decided to communicate directly with the American public through his favorite platform: social media (for which the judge reprimanded him and his son several times). Just before the jury’s deliberations began, Mr Trump claimed (falsely) to Truth Social that he was “not allowed to speak or defend himself” at the trial. Shortly after the verdict came, the Trump campaign released a statement announcing that they would appeal and that “Democrat weaponization of the American judicial system against President Trump” had reached a new low.

does it matter?

Mr Trump’s protest that the case is evidence of the “greatest witch-hunt ever” will play well with his base – who are crucial to helping him win the primaries. But a conviction for sexual battery would certainly harm his presidential candidacy in a general election, even accounting for his Teflon qualities. The extent of the damage is not yet clear. Other Republican candidates now face a strange dilemma as they are asked what they think of a jury of ordinary Americans finding that their de facto leader sexually assaulted former Arkansas governor and current presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson. didn’t mince his words: “The jury’s decision should be taken seriously and is another example of Donald Trump’s erratic behavior.”

With Mr. Trump easily leading the polls in the primaries, other Republicans hoping for a place in his cabinet may not be so forthright. They may conclude that, with the Access Hollywood “cat-grab” video, it will take more to intimidate the Trump voter. A discovery of rape may well have changed that view.

But there is more to come. Among the ensuing inquiries and legal battles, including his alleged handling of secret documents and his role in the January 6 riot at the Capitol, one of the most serious potential consequences is a criminal investigation Mr. Trump faces for alleged election interference. Are. Georgia. Unlike this week’s case, which has cost Mr Trump reputation and dollars, a conviction at least in theory has cost him his freedom. But time is on his side. Even if there is a conviction in the case, it is unlikely that the appeal will end before the presidential election in November 2024.

© 2023, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved. From The Economist, published under license. Original content can be found at www.economist.com

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