New York | Former President Donald Trump abruptly walked out on closing arguments at his defamation trial Friday as a lawyer for writer E Jean Carroll urged a jury to award her client at least USD 12 million damages, saying Trump had shattered her reputation and her world by unleashing a flood of hate toward her through his public statements branding her a liar.
Just minutes after attorney Roberta Kaplan began her closing argument in Manhattan federal court, Trump suddenly rose from his seat at the defense table and walked toward the exit, pausing to scan the packed courtroom as members of the Secret Service leaped up to follow him out.
The unexpected departure prompted Judge Lewis A Kaplan to speak up, briefly interrupting the closing argument to say: “The record will reflect that Mr Trump just rose and walked out of the courtroom.”
The walkout came only minutes after the judge, without the jury present, threatened to send Trump attorney Alina Habba to jail for continuing to talk when he told her she was finished.
“You are on the verge of spending some time in the lockup. Now sit down,” the judge told Habba, who immediately complied.
Roberta Kaplan and the judge are unrelated.
Trump, who was not required to attend the civil lawsuit proceedings, had appeared agitated all morning, vigorously shaking his head as Kaplan's closing arguments got underway.
The walkout occurred shortly after Roberta Kaplan said: “Donald Trump has tried to normalize conduct that is abnormal.”
The closings occurred in the defamation case against Trump a day after he left the courtroom fuming that he hadn't been given an opportunity to refute Carroll's sexual abuse accusations.
Lawyers were summing up for nine jurors who will start deliberating later in the day whether Carroll, a longtime advice columnist, is entitled to more than the USD 5 million she was awarded in a separate trial last year.
The final remarks from the lawyers come a day after Trump managed to sneak past a federal judge's rules severely limiting what he could say during his turn on the witness stand, which wound up lasting just 3 minutes.
“She said something that I considered to be a false accusation,” Trump said, later adding: “I just wanted to defend myself, my family and, frankly, the presidency.” The jury was told by the judge to disregard both remarks.
A different jury last May concluded that Trump sexually abused Carroll in the spring of 1996 in the changing room of a luxury Manhattan department store. It also found that he defamed her in 2022 by claiming she made up the allegation to sell a memoir.
Trump, the Republican frontrunner in this year's presidential election, has long regretted his decision not to testify at that trial, blaming his lawyers for bad advice.
During her closing, Roberta Kaplan told jurors that the current case was not about a sexual assault.
“We had that case,” she said, referencing the first trial. “That's why Donald Trump's testimony was so short yesterday. He doesn't get a do-over this time.”
The jury in this new trial has been told that it is there for the limited purpose and jurors must accept the verdict reached last year. The current jury will only determine whether additional damages are owed for statements Trump made in June 2019 while he was president. The claims had been delayed for years by court appeals.
Carroll's lawyers seek over USD 10 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Habba has argued against damages, saying Carroll's association with Trump had given her the fame she craved and that death threats she received cannot be blamed on Trump's remarks.
Carroll, 80, testified at last year's trial that she had a chance encounter with Trump at a Bergdorf Goodman store that was flirtatious and lighthearted until Trump cornered her in a changing room. Her claim that Trump raped her was rejected by last year's jury, though it agreed she was sexually abused.
Last week, Carroll testified that her career was shattered by Trump's statements about her claims over the last five years, most recently on the campaign trail for president. She said she bought bullets for a gun she inherited from her father and installed an electronic fence around her home.
On Thursday, Trump testified that he stood “100 per cent" behind comments he made in an October 2002 deposition in which he denied Carroll's accusations, calling her “sick” and a “whack job.”
Kaplan intends to instruct jurors Friday that the jury last year concluded that Trump had digitally penetrated Carroll in the department store, but the same jury did not find that he had raped her, according to how rape is defined under New York state law.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.