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Closing arguments are set to begin in E. Jean Carroll's civil case against Trump

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Writer E. Jean Carroll says that former President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the changing room of an upscale Manhattan department store about 28 years ago.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And for the past week, her lawyers have been presenting evidence of the alleged rape and defamation to a jury. Today, both sides have the chance to make their closing arguments in the civil case.

MARTIN: NPR's Ilya Marritz has been watching. And he's with us now to tell us more. Good morning.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Before we get into the closing arguments, can you just remind us of what are the key elements of the case?

MARRITZ: Well, there's a lot that this case does not have. There is no video evidence, no DNA, no direct witnesses besides E. Jean Carroll herself, the plaintiff. So her lawyers have tried to bolster her account with other kinds of witnesses and evidence. They've presented two friends of Carroll's who each said she told them about the assault right after it happened. The jury also heard from two other women who also testified saying they were assaulted by Trump as well. And Carroll's team has showed excerpts from a video deposition of Trump. If you remember, after Carroll's allegation first broke a few years ago, Trump dismissed it, saying, quote, "she's not my type." Listen closely to what Trump says when he's shown a party photo of himself with E. Jean Carroll and is asked to identify her. He doesn't know who she is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I don't even know who the woman - let's see. I don't know who - it's Marla.

ROBERTA KAPLAN: You're saying Marla's in this photo?

TRUMP: That's Marla, yeah. That's my wife.

KAPLAN: Which woman are you pointing to?

TRUMP: Here.

ALINA HABBA: No, that's Carroll.

TRUMP: Oh, is that - oh, OK.

KAPLAN: The person you just pointed to is E. Jean Carroll.

TRUMP: Oh, I see. Who is that? Who is this?

MARRITZ: So we just heard him mistake his accuser for his second wife, Marla Maples. Perhaps that calls into question his statement that he didn't find Carroll attractive.

MARTIN: So using Trump's words against him. But Trump's team tried to do the same thing with E. Jean Carroll. Tell us about that.

MARRITZ: That's right. In cross-examination, Trump's lawyer pointed out inconsistencies in things Carroll has said over the years about the alleged rape and the effect it had on her. They also pointed out Carroll can't recall what year it happened. But what was really striking was their portrayal of Carroll as a shady character. Trump lawyer Joseph Tacopina said Carroll was motivated by money and publicity. He told jurors they cannot let her profit from her abuse of this process and warned that she would try to deceive them.

MARTIN: So Donald Trump did not attend the trial, but he commented on it all through the week. How did the judge respond to that?

MARRITZ: It played really badly with the judge. Right at the start of the trial, Judge Lewis Kaplan warned both teams that their clients and witnesses should not talk in the media and should particularly avoid words that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest. Trump flouted these instructions again and again. He posted to social media. He talked to reporters on camera. His lawyers basically said, hey, what can we do? He's Donald Trump. Over the weekend, Carroll's attorneys complained to the judge, saying Trump had not taken down two social media posts despite his lawyer's pledge that he would. The danger here is that the jury could see some of this stuff and be influenced by it. So far, though, there have been no consequences.

MARTIN: So what can we expect for the rest of the day?

MARRITZ: We expect closing arguments to take up most of the day. Then the judge will give the jury its instructions, and they will begin to deliberate. Remember, this is civil not criminal court. So the standard of evidence for the assault allegation is preponderance of evidence, which is a lot less than for a criminal case, where it's beyond a reasonable doubt. The potential damages here, if Trump is found liable, could run well into the millions of dollars. Both sides have so much riding on the jurors' decision. For all the legal hazards Trump faces at this moment, this one is in some ways the most personal. And if he is held liable for battery - and that's the legal term in this case - it'll be a kind of vindication not only for Carroll but for the many women who've accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ilya Marritz. Ilya, thank you so much.

MARRITZ: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAEGEL'S "WATCH YOUR BACK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Ilya Marritz