As the other GOP presidential candidates crisscrossed New Hampshire Wednesday in advance of the first-in-the-nation primary, Donald Trump was sitting in a New York district courthouse, earning the scorn of a judge who repeatedly warned the former president he would throw him out of the courtroom if Trump couldn’t control his outbursts.
Jurors are hearing E. Jean Carroll’s defamation case against Trump. And during the morning session Wednesday, the former president grumbled out loud during the hours-long testimony from Carroll, the journalist he was previously found to have sexually assaulted. While she described the pain she felt from the insults and threats that Trump’s loyal fans hurled at her after she came out about the attack, Trump turned the defense table into a peanut gallery.
“It is a witchhunt,” he said at one point, loud enough that the audience in the courtroom could hear him. “It really is a con job,” he later whined.
When jurors left the courtroom for a lunch break, Carroll’s lawyers complained to the judge a second time, cautioning that jurors could also hear the former president’s comments—something that violated judicial decorum.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said he’d had enough.
“Mr. Trump has the right to be present here. That right can be forfeited. And it can be forfeited if he is disruptive,” Kaplan said.
Trump threw his arms up at the warning and shot back a response that wasn’t caught on courtroom microphones. The surprised judge responded that he was sure Trump actually was trying to get ejected.
“You just can’t control yourself,” Kaplan said, promptly pausing the trial for an hour-long lunch break.
The back-and-forth punctuated the escalating tensions in the courtroom, as the judge increasingly loses his patience with the former president and his lawyers. Defense attorney Alina Habba keeps interrupting Carroll’s testimony with declarations—which the judge called unwelcome announcements—repeatedly instructing her in a firm voice to “sit down” and stop talking unless she has a legitimate legal objection.
Earlier in the day, Carroll attorney Shawn G. Crowley told the judge that Trump was doing the same thing. In that particular instance, Kaplan took a more patient tone, speaking directly and slowly to the billionaire tycoon in a voice that sounded more like a nudge than an order. He even gave him the benefit of the doubt, casting Trump’s display of discontent as merely a conversation with his lawyers.
“I’m just going to ask that Mr. Trump keep his voice down when conferring with his attorneys,” Kaplan said the first time.
But as Trump kept his antics up, the judge took a firmer stance. The courtroom atmosphere had a power dynamic of historic proportions, with a journalist describing how the man who was once the most powerful politician in the world attacked her physically in a department store in the mid-1990s and then rhetorically from behind the presidential seal in 2019.
It’s unclear whether Trump will choose to testify this week before a panel of nine jurors decide if and how to punish him for repeatedly trashing Carroll about the way he forced himself on Carroll.
At a previous iteration of this trial, a separate jury found that Trump committed sexual assault and rewarded Carroll with a $5 million verdict that the billionaire has apparently already paid. However, this time around, a new jury will decide whether Trump owes additional money for misusing the overwhelming power of the presidency to lie about Carroll—and whether he should be punished even further for making dozens of denials and insults against Carroll in the years since, with some even from this week.