Donald Trump has decided not to testify in the trial of a New York author’s lawsuit claiming he raped her in the 1990s, sparing the former president a grilling on the witness stand.
Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina told US District Judge Lewis Kaplan of his client’s decision after the jury left for the day on Tuesday afternoon, the fifth day of the trial of E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit claiming sexual assault and defamation.
“It’s his call,” the judge said. “I understand that. You understand that. He understands that, right?”
“Yes,” Tacopina said, without elaborating.
‘Very Bad Look’
Contacted later, the defense lawyer said Trump’s denial of Carroll’s claims are already on the record in his videotaped deposition, portions of which will be played for the jury.
“He has nothing more to add,” Tacopina said in a text message. “All he could say is, I didn’t do it … again.”
Whether Trump would attend the trial, let alone testify in it, had been hanging over the proceedings since a deadline for Tacopina to reveal his client’s decision came and went last week. Defendants in such civil trials aren’t required to attend, though declining to take the stand can sometimes work against them if jurors expect to hear them respond to the claims.
“It’s a very bad look,” former federal prosecutor Kevin O’Brien said. “Jurors can infer that Trump lacked the courage or the conviction to appear before them.”
Still, jurors will hear plenty from Trump’s sworn answers to questions during his deposition, some of which were “disastrous” for the former president and will be submitted into evidence anyway by Carroll’s lawyers, O’Brien said.
“The upshot is that this is the worst of both worlds for Trump,” O’Brien said.
Former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade, now at the University of Michigan’s law school, looks at it differently. She said Trump’s demeanor and his promotion of falsehoods make it a sound decision.
“I think it would be akin to legal malpractice for a lawyer to permit Trump to take the stand,” she said.
Before the trial started, Tacopina asked Kaplan to tell the jury that any absence by Trump was the result of security concerns. The judge declined to give the jury such an explanation, and said the court and city could handle security if Trump decided to show up.
Carroll, 79, has already taken the witness stand.
Trump, 76, has denied assaulting Carroll or any of the other women who have made accusations against him. He says Carroll’s lawsuit, like all the cases and probes he faces, is part of a politically motivated effort to undermine his campaign to return to the White House in 2024.
By Erik Larson and Patricia Hurtado / Bloomberg