WASHINGTON ― Republican lawmakers defended former President Donald Trump after he was found liable for sexual assault and defamation in a civil case in New York, in the latest legal bombshell that could haunt the GOP presidential front-runner in 2024.
“That jury’s a joke. The whole case is a joke,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters on Tuesday.
“If someone accuses me of raping them and I didn’t do it, and you’re innocent, of course you’re going to say something about it … it was a joke,” Rubio added of the defamation findings.
Advice columnist E. Jean Carroll testified that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. The jury reached its decision Tuesday after less than three hours of deliberation, finding the ex-president liable for sexual abuse — but not rape — and declaring he owes $5 million in total damages.
Trump, who declined the opportunity to defend himself in court, denied the allegation and called the verdict “A DISGRACE” and “A CONTINUATION OF THE GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME!”
In her testimony, Carroll said Trump trapped and assaulted her at a New York luxury department store, pinning his body against hers.
“He had pulled down my tights, and his fingers went into my vagina, and it was extremely painful,” Carroll testified, Politico reported. “Extremely painful because he put his hand inside me and curved his fingers. As I’m sitting here today, I can still feel it.”
“It makes me want to vote for him twice.”
– Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.)
But Trump’s top allies on Capitol Hill dismissed the verdict and suggested the jury that found Trump liable isn’t legitimate because it was drawn in a blue state, the same defense Republicans trotted out when Trump was criminally charged in Manhattan over hush money payments to an adult film star earlier this year.
“It makes me want to vote for him twice,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) told HuffPost when asked about the verdict. “They’re going to do anything they can to keep him from winning. It ain’t gonna work … people are gonna see through the lines; a New York jury, he had no chance.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), another Trump ally, simply repeated Trump’s denial of the allegation. “He said he didn’t do it,” Scott said. Asked if he could support someone found liable for sexual battery, the senator said, “I don’t know the facts. It’s a New York jury, too.”
“When it comes to Donald Trump, the New York legal system is off the rails,” added Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Other Republican senators expressed unease about the verdict but wouldn’t rule out supporting Trump if he becomes the party’s presidential nominee in 2024.
“You never like to hear a former president has been found in civil court guilty of those types of actions,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said. When asked if he could support someone found liable for battery, Rounds said, “I would have a difficult time doing so.” He then heaped praise on Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is expected to enter the 2024 presidential race.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he would “rather have a president that isn’t found liable for battery,” but he, too, stopped short of ruling out supporting Trump in the future if it’s a choice between Trump and Joe Biden.
“It’s not a disqualifier, but it’s certainly not a check in the plus column,” Cramer added of Trump being found liable for sexual battery.
Only Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of the Republican Party’s loudest Trump critics, reiterated that it is long past time for the GOP to turn the page on Trump.
“The jury reached their decision and I hope the jury of the American people reach the same conclusion: we need a different nominee to be the nominee for president. He is in no position to be the president of the United States,” Romney said.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.