A murmur of disbelief goes through the room on the 26th floor of the courthouse in downtown Manhattan. The East River glitters in front of the windows, inside – under one of ten massive chandeliers – a court clerk waves a note from the jury, which was not expected so early. There is only one handwritten word written on it: “Verdict”.
It took nine jurors less than three hours to conclude that Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, sexually abused a woman and caused her so much suffering that he was fined $5 million should pay. The Republican’s verdict is just one of a whole series of legal problems for the 76-year-old, who wants to run again in the 2024 presidential election.
It’s a complex case: the author E. Jean Carroll accuses Trump of raping her in the dressing room of a New York luxury department store in the mid-1990s. Trump has always denied this and has repeatedly publicly accused Carroll of inventing tall tales for self-marketing reasons. The allegations are statute-barred under criminal law, but the 79-year-old was able to take civil action against Trump. She sued him for assault and defamation, demanding compensation. And she achieved a significant success: The jury, while dismissing the rape charge, came to the conclusion that Trump sexually abused and defamed Carroll.
Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump’s defense attorneys could see the tension that day. His attorney, Joseph Tacopina, roamed from one side of the darkly paneled Manhattan courtroom to the other, jerkily greeting the auditorium. Carroll sits just one row in front of him and hardly moves, as he did during the trial.
Trump: “Judgment is a shame”
As she exits the courthouse at the end, Carroll smiles. She walks silently past the waiting reporters, letting her face do the talking. The lawyer at her side, Roberta Kaplan, says in passing: “We are very satisfied.” Then they both get into a dark SUV and drive away.
Trump did not appear in court in person. He vents his anger remotely on his Twitter alternative, Truth Social. “This verdict is a disgrace – a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time,” he wrote in capital letters immediately after the decision was announced. And further: “I have absolutely no idea who this woman is.”
Shortly thereafter, Trump’s attorney Tacopina appears outside the courthouse and announces that he will appeal the decision. He says of his client: “He’s strong. He’s ready to move on. He’ll fight it with an appeal.” Tacopina speaks of an inconsistent and “strange verdict”. After all, Trump is “not branded as a rapist,” he adds.
Trump is now branded
That may be true. But Trump is still branded as a “predator” – the term literally means beast of prey and is often used in the USA for sex offenders. As a man who knows no bounds when dealing with women and makes no secret of his disparaging attitude towards them. While Trump did not testify in court during the trial days, he did answer questions from Carroll’s attorney in advance of the trial. A 48-minute video of the interrogation was released a few days ago. In it, Trump repeated contemptuous statements about Carroll and other women who have accused him of sexual assault in the past.
And he made a remarkable defense of his statement that as a celebrity you can touch women anywhere you want, including their genitals. “If you look at the last million years, that’s probably largely true, not always, but largely true. Unfortunately – or fortunately,” Trump said in the new video.
A recording of his vulgar statement first appeared in the middle of the 2016 election campaign. The Americans elected Trump as president anyway. Many other scandals have not brought the Republican down politically in the past. In this respect, it is questionable whether Trump will do lasting damage to the judgment that has now been passed.
Parts of his constituency feel empowered
Since this is a civil case, it was not about imprisonment from the start, but about financial compensation. From a purely legal point of view, the decision has no influence whatsoever on the election campaign. And political? While in Germany it would be inconceivable that a politician held liable for sexual abuse in court would advance to the chancellor’s office, in the USA this does not seem to be impossible. Trump’s view of women has been known since 2016 at the latest. During these proceedings, he made it absolutely clear that his attitude has not changed in the slightest.
In any case, sections of his constituency are so indoctrinated that any legal action against Trump will only fuel their zeal. They follow Trump’s narrative that anything brought against him is part of a political plot to prevent his re-entering the White House. Trump has used various legal investigations against himself in recent months to incite his supporters and collect donations. He should do that again now – and emphasize that he was not held responsible for the rape.
There are other lawsuits against Trump
Even if the jury’s decision further increases Trump’s moral burden – politically and legally other procedures could become more dangerous for him. Investigations are underway against Trump over his handling of secret government documents and his efforts to manipulate the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. If there were an indictment and possibly a conviction, Trump could get into real trouble. Another charge against him has already been filed: Trump is the first ex-president in US history to face criminal proceedings, also in New York, for hush money payments to a porn star, which Trump is said to have tried to conceal in business documents.
Anyone who is surprised that someone with so much legal ballast still shows political ambitions knows Trump very little. His critics argue that he aspires to the presidency as a shield from prosecution. His attorney Tacopina, on the other hand, says outside the court that Trump is simply “unstoppable.” And to the further strategy: “He continues as he always does.”