Donald Trump’s ongoing rape defamation trial once again veered toward parody on Thursday, with defense lawyers pressing witnesses with questions that suggested the journalist he sexually assaulted and later relentlessly trashed might just be better off now that she’s more famous.
“Your reputation, in many ways, is better today, Ms. Carroll?” defense attorney Alina Habba jabbed at the advice columnist.
“No. My status was lowered. I’m partaking in this trial to bring my own reputation and status back,” E. Jean Carroll responded.
Faced with the reality that Trump’s loyalist mob immediately lashed out against Carroll for coming forward about the rape accusation, defense attorneys also tried to decouple the former president’s words about Carroll from his MAGA brigade’s attacks—arguing that the advice columnist should’ve seen it coming.
Curiously, though, Trump’s lawyers didn’t even push back on the $12 million price tag that a marketing expert said it would cost to repair Carroll’s reputation. In the intervening years, she has been subjected to years of insults from online trolls who have tossed insults ranging from politically motivated liar to “whore.”
At a previous iteration of this trial, a separate New York jury concluded that the real estate tycoon did, in fact, force himself on Carroll in the mid-1990s. They decided Trump owed Carroll $5 million for those actions and his denials.
This time around, nine other New Yorkers at this damages-only trial are determining whether Trump should pay even more for the widely broadcasted denials he made from the White House in 2019. (The jury has been instructed to assume Trump did sexually assault Carroll, as that previous jury determined.)
The third day of this trial was a slog, with Trump’s lawyers clumsily cross-examining Carroll and a university professor while the federal judge repeatedly castigated the former president’s lawyers for not asking straightforward or relevant questions.
New Jersey law partners Alina Habba and Michael Madaio focused on whether Carroll was better known by the public after revealing her harrowing tale—and if any assessment of the alleged reputational damage she suffered was “offset” by her newfound identity as a foil to the much-hated 45th American president.
In the morning, Habba continued the question-and-answer session she began the previous day. She spent considerable time trying to focus the jury’s attention on the journalist’s $70,000 gross income last year and the slowly increasing number of readers she has attained on her independently run blog on Substack, which in reality is a far cry from the $400,000 salary she once made as a celebrated magazine columnist in Manhattan decades ago.
Habba pointed out how Carroll’s Twitter following has nearly increased thirtyfold and now stands at 284,000 while her Instagram account now has a sizable 12,000 followers. The question seemed to ignore how Carroll had written several books, once hosted a TV talk show, and helmed a popular Elle magazine column for years. But when asked about her sudden return to prominence in the wake of her rape accusation, Carroll gave a pointed answer.
“Yes, I’m more well-known. And I’m hated by a lot more people,” Carroll said on the witness stand.
“Did you expect that everybody would like you, Ms. Carroll?” Habba asked, with a question that was batted down by an objection and then sustained by the judge.
Later on, when Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan asked whether the journalist would have kept the reputation she had before her sudden prominence on social media, Carroll clarified that she was much better off before.
But Habba dug in during her second shot at Carroll, shifting the blame toward the woman for ever coming out about the attack in a popular book excerpt published in New York Magazine’s website, The Cut.
“Was it your choice to do the article in The Cut?” Habba asked.
“Yes,” Carroll responded, just seconds before her attorney objected.
In the afternoon, Northwestern University marketing professor Ashlee Humphreys explained how she analyzed the extensive reach of Trump’s official government statement and the comments he made to reporters on the White House lawn shortly before boarding the presidential helicopter. Both statements essentially amounted to the president calling Carroll a liar. The professor estimated that up to 24 million people heard about the false denials on TV, newspapers, and social media—and chose to believe Trump.
“I found that damage was severe to her reputation as a journalist,” Humphreys testified, reasoning that Carroll was particularly hurt as a journalist having her credibility called into question.
However, when she was questioned by Madaio, Trump’s second defense lawyer concentrated on the opposite effect—the overwhelming support Carroll got from people who cheered her on for coming forward.
“Did you analyze whether the positive feedback offset the negative one?” he asked, causing the judge to immediately call for a sidebar conversation with the lawyers.
Near the end of day, Madaio switched gears and whipped out an entirely new line of reasoning, pointing out how Humphreys recently shut down public access to her Twitter account shortly before appearing as an expert at this trial–merely a step toward making the argument that the journalist could’ve avoided blowback by hiding out instead.
“And all users have the ability to make it private, right? Including E. Jean Carroll?” he asked.
Once again, the judge tossed out the question by sustaining an objection—this time, calling it “far beyond the scope” of what the expert had discussed during her initial testimony.