By Arul Louis
New York, May 10 : The federal jury verdict ordering former US President Donald Trump to pay $5 million in damages to a woman who accused him of rape clouds his election bid with rumblings against him in his own party.
In the civil trial, the jury on Tuesday found he sexually abused the woman and defamed her while not accepting her claim he raped her and awarded her damages.
Being a civil case, Trump does not face prison time but for the first time a court has established a claim of Trump abusing women – an allegation made by several women against him.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who is challenging Trump for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, said “a cavalier and arrogant contempt for the rule of law can backfire” and the verdict should be taken seriously.
Republican Senator Bill Cassidy said the verdict raises concerns about Trump.
He asked: “He’s been found to be civilly liable, how could it do anything else but create a concern?”
E. Jean Carroll, 79, a magazine columnist, brought the case against Trump, who she said had raped her decades ago and defamed her by saying the allegation was a “hoax”.
The case was filed in 2019 while Trump was still president and in the midst of his re-election campaign.
He increased his votes in the election next year although he lost to President Joe Biden.
The latest opinion poll by ABC News and The Washington Post taken before the verdict showed him six percentage points ahead of Biden.
Whether he can hold the lead will depend on how the independent voters view the verdict.
Senator John Cornyn, who is from Texas where Trump has a strong base said that he did not think Trump would win the election next year.
But he added: “People who support President Trump, support President Trump. People who don’t support President Trump, don’t support him, and I don’t think this will have any impact” on those with fixed stances.
Many Republicans will not publicly criticise him because of Trump’s hold on the party base.
Even a challenger for the Republican nomination, Vivek Ramaswamy, dismissed the verdict as an “establishment” reaction to their “chief political allergen”.
Trump is facing a criminal case brought by a local prosecutor in New York accusing him of falsifying business records to cover up payments made to a woman who claimed to have had an affair with him.
If convicted in that case, he could be sentenced to prison time, although that would not bar him from running for election under the US Constitution.
In a post on Truth Social media, Trump characteristically called the civil case verdict a “continuing of the greatest witchhunt of all time” and said he would appeal.
On Tuesday night he is set to face voters in a town hall-style meeting hosted live by CNN in New Hampshire, traditionally the first state to hold the primaries – the intra-party election to select the candidate.
CNN said that he will be fielding questions from an audience of party members and undecided voters and there will be no restrictions on questions he can be asked.
Trump, who is busy campaigning for his presidential run, did not take the witness stand to contest Carrolla¿s case.
Several women have accused him of rape and sex abuse, but the thrice-married Trump who once revelled in the image of a playboy has not faced criminal charges.
A damning piece of evidence introduced against him related to a video of him using an obscenity and saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything, grab ’em by the (genitals).”
During a deposition — testimony and cross-examination outside a court to speed up the trial — he defended the statement saying that “historically that is true” when asked about it by Carroll’s lawyer.
A video of his statement made during the cross-examination was shown to the jury, a citizens’ panel made up of three women and six men, which gave the verdict in less than three hours of deliberations after eight days of the trial.
Carroll herself took the stand at the trial as did two other women who said that they had been abused by Trump, one of them while on a plane.
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me,” Carroll told the jury and gave a graphic description of Trump abusing her with his fingers before raping her.
She said that the encounter took place in the lingerie section of the department store when he approached her on the pretext of trying to find a gift for a woman friend but did not remember when exactly it happened.
He banged her head on the wall of a fitting room before the attack, she said.
Carroll first made the accusations public while the presidential race was heating up in 2019 in a magazine excerpt ahead of the publication of her book, “What Do We Need Men For”? in which she wrote about the assault more than two decades after the attack.
Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina questioned Carroll’s credibility, saying that she did not report the attack to the police, didn’t remember the day it took place and brought it up decades later.
Two friends of Carroll testified that she had told them about the assault around the time it took place.
Lisa Birnbach said that she told her about the assault minutes after it happened but declined her offer to accompany her to make a police complaint.
There was a large crowd of demonstrators outside the courthouse denouncing his treatment of women when the verdict came down.
Trump, who has been impeached twice by the House of Representatives is caught in a web of legal issues.
The first former president to face criminal charges, Trump was arrested and produced in court last month in the payment of hush money criminal case but was released pending the trial that could take place early next year.
Trump has not disputed that he had paid off the porn film actress Stormy Daniels who claimed to have had an affair with him.
The payoff made before the 2016 election is not illegal, but claiming it as legal fees to a lawyer in accounts could amount to a criminal offence with a prison term.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James has filed a civil case over his and his adult children’s business practices.
A state prosecutor in Georgia is looking into allegations that Trump interfered in the election results and a federal special counsel is examining if he had a role in the January 6, 2021, attack on Congress by his supporters.
Federal prosecutors are also investigating his handling of classified documents that he took from the White House when he left office.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at @arulouis)