Donald Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, arrived at the federal courthouse in downtown Manhattan on Thursday dressed in all black with her hair pulled back in a tight bun – a noticeable deviation from her colourful, trendy outfits and typical hairstyle.
It was day three of the defamation trial between writer E Jean Carroll and Mr Trump, in which a jury is being asked to determine how much, if any, damages the former president owes Ms Carroll for defaming her in statements he made in 2019 denying he knew her or sexually assaulted her.
Last year, a jury found Mr Trump liable for sexual abuse and defaming Ms Carroll in statements he made in 2022.
So far the trial has been contentious. On Wednesday, Ms Habba was reprimanded multiple times by Judge Lewis Kaplan.
Shortly after 9.30am on Thursday, Ms Habba took to the lectern to finish her cross-examination of Ms Carroll. Almost immediately her questioning resulted in a sidebar and sustained objections. That pattern continued most of the morning.
Ms Habba’s numerous attempts to enter old tweets into evidence were objected to and sustained. One of her questions to Ms Carroll was struck from the record. Judge Kaplan asked Ms Habba to “move on” multiple times and had to remind her to respect his rulings.
At one point, the judge interrupted Ms Habba’s questioning of Ms Carroll to direct her to be more clear.
“This is evidence 101,” he said exasperatedly.
Ms Habba was clearly frustrated with the number of sustained objections. At times, she shook her head, subtly lifted her hands in exasperation and at once let out an audible sigh.
Though Thursday’s trial contained less palpable tension between the defence and the judge (whether or not that has to do with the former president’s presence is up to interpretation), it was unmistakable that Ms Habba was not making friends in the courtroom.
Much of Ms Habba’s approach to defending her client consisted of using social media posts, specifically from X, where people sent mean messages to Ms Carroll, criticising her for coming forward with allegations of sexual assault.
Each time Ms Habba presented a post, she asked Ms Carroll to read the time it was sent. Seemingly, a tactic to show that the former Elle columnist was receiving hate mail before Mr Trump defamed her in a June 2019 statement.
Later on, she showed several of Ms Carroll’s old tweets – specifically ones where Ms Carroll was writing unreservedly about sex or relationships.
Toward the end of her cross-examination, Ms Habba asked Ms Carroll about her social status and notoriety after she came forward with rape allegations against the former president. Ms Habba mentioned notable people who congratulated Ms Carroll after winning damages in her trial last year like Kathy Griffin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Alyssa Milano.
“Thank you for reminding me,” Ms Carroll said when recalling the kind messages she received after her trial last year, leading the courtroom to giggle.
After Ms Carroll’s cross-examination, the court moved on to hear testimony from Ashlee Humphreys – a professor at Northwestern University who specialises in consumer behaviour and marketing.
Ms Humphreys testified that she analysed the impact of Mr Trump’s statements on Ms Carroll’s reputation. She estimated that 21 to 24 million people saw the former president’s defamatory statements and believed them.
She estimated it would cost at least $12 million to repair Ms Carroll’s reputation.