Donald Trump has spent the better part of the last seven years calling into question the legitimacy of the legal system. He has repeatedly labeled scrutiny of him and his allies unfair and decried convictions of his allies, culminating in a remarkably partisan record on pardons. He has wielded the phrase “witch hunt” and “hoax” many hundreds of times. He has attacked judges, juries, prosecutors and investigators, in one case drawing a rebuke from his own Supreme Court nominee.
But even by his standards, his conduct after the E. Jean Carroll verdict has broken ground. Not content to just criticize the judge and jury, Trump during a CNN town hall two weeks ago doubled down on the very types of statements the jury already found were defamatory against her.
And he again might have to answer for it in court. A lawyer for Carroll late Monday signaled she will seek new damages.
The initial comments, in October 2022, resulted in the jury awarding Carroll $3 million for defamation (on top of $2 million for the sexual abuse the jury found Trump liable for). Carroll’s lawyer said she would seek at least $10 million for the latest round, saying Trump “persisted in maliciously defaming Carroll yet again” and was “undeterred by the jury’s verdict.”
It’s difficult to argue with that last part. And Trump responded by doubling down Tuesday morning, making remarks similar to the defamatory comments he posted on social media in October and again posting them on social media.
The new complaint came in a separate case, which Carroll brought in 2019 against Trump. That case has been bogged down over legal questions about whether Trump can be held liable for statements he made about Carroll while serving as president.
Regardless, Trump’s comments May 10 at the CNN event and on Truth Social on Tuesday are remarkably similar to ones from Trump’s Oct. 12 statement that Carroll cited in her initial 2022 complaint.
Here’s a rundown.
Initial complaint (the one that resulted in $3 million in damages awarded to Carroll): “I don’t know this woman.”
CNN town hall: “This woman, I don’t know her. I never met her. I have no idea who she is.” “I have no idea who the hell she is. I don’t know who this woman is.”
Truth Social on Tuesday: “I don’t know E. Jean Carroll, I never met her or touched her.”
Initial complaint: “This ‘Ms. Bergdorf Goodman case’ is a complete con job.” “It is a complete scam.”
CNN town hall: “She’s a whack job.” “This is a rigged deal.”
Truth Social on Tuesday: “A TOTAL SCAM.”
Initial complaint: “It is a hoax and a lie.”
CNN town hall: “This is a fake story.” (He said this twice.)
Truth Social on Tuesday: “Her Fake, Made Up Story, that she wrote in a book.” “The Carroll case is part of the Democrats playbook to tarnish my name and person, much like the now fully debunked Russia, Russia, Russia Hoax.”
Initial complaint: “This woman is not my type!”
CNN town hall: “She was about 60 years old. And this is like 22, 23 years ago.” (The alleged incident transpired in the mid-1990s, when Carroll was in her early 50s. Trump in his deposition also mistook Carroll in a photo for his then-wife, Marla Maples, undermining his claims about her not being his type.)
How directly some of these compare is up for debate. The comment about Carroll’s age was more oblique than “not my type.” And Trump has layered his comments about not knowing Carroll by acknowledging the encounter depicted in the photo. (Carroll’s complaint said they had “met at least once before and had long traveled in the same New York City media circles.”)
It’s unclear how these comments might play in the separate 2019 case, which as noted has been slow-moving. Legal expert Renato Mariotti remarked after the town hall that Carroll could sue over the comments, but that “as a practical matter, it would be difficult for her to establish additional damages after a jury verdict made her whole for the damages she suffered up until this point.”
Still, there is little question that Trump is opening himself up by repeating his assertions about Carroll, given that they have been established as defamatory.
And more than anything, he is rather deliberately making a mockery of the legal system. Which, it has become clear as his legal jeopardy has expanded, he probably thinks is worth whatever financial price he might have to pay in civil litigation.