"Admission of guilt": Expert says Trump's refusal to testify may be "evidence of fear and cowardice"

Experts say Trump no-showing the trial may backfire with the jury

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published May 8, 2023 3:09PM (EDT)

Former US president Donald Trump on the 4th hole at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, Co. Clare, during his visit to Ireland. Picture date: Thursday May 4, 2023. (Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)
Former US president Donald Trump on the 4th hole at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, Co. Clare, during his visit to Ireland. Picture date: Thursday May 4, 2023. (Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)

Attorneys presented their closing arguments on Monday after former President Donald Trump blew past a court deadline to request to testify in his defense.

Trump told Sky News on Thursday while playing golf at his resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, that he would "probably attend" the trial, which centers around Carroll's claim that he damaged her reputation by calling her a liar and repeatedly denying her accusations that he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in the mid-1990.

Judge Lewis Kaplan told Trump's attorney to file a request to testify by Sunday at 5 pm if he wanted to take the stand but his lawyers made no such filing over the weekend.

"Trump's decision not to testify will be repeatedly highlighted in closing, as the plaintiff is permitted to do in a civil case," said Faith Gay, former federal prosecutor and founding partner of Selendy Gay Elsberg. "The jurors may well take that as evidence of fear and cowardice, an admission of guilt and also as disrespect for the process, for the jurors and for the plaintiff and what she has suffered."

Carroll, who has already testified in detail about the alleged attack, said that Trump "lied and shattered" her reputation after she came forward with the allegations in 2019.

She added a charge of battery under a recently adopted New York law that provides adult sexual assault victims the opportunity to file civil lawsuits, even if the statutes of limitations have long expired.

Trump, who has repeatedly denied Carroll's allegations, has said that the writer was not his "type" and was "totally lying." His denials have caused her further torment, she testified.

Trump has called the case against him "a made-up scam" and referred to Carroll's lawyer as a "a political operative, financed by a big political donor."

"Any lawyer worth his salt would advise Donald Trump not to testify in this case," said former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, a law professor at the University of Michigan. "As we have all seen, Trump has a very loose relationship with the truth…There is also a risk that Trump would make statements that are offensive to the jury and increase his likelihood of losing his case."

Trump's lawyer Joe Tacopina has defended the former president, claiming Carroll made up the story to boost sales of her book.

"Strategically, [Trump] may view it as better for him, politically, to lose this case, pay whatever damages are assessed, and then claim that it was all politically motivated," McQuade said.

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The women who have testified in the case so far have demonstrated "Trump's pattern of or propensity to sexual abuse," which Carroll promised to show in opening statements of the trial, former federal prosecutor Kevin O'Brien told Salon last week.

He added that it's "not a good look" for Trump to decline to testify at his own trial. Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, "harped on his absence" in her closing statement to the jury this morning.  

"On the other hand, judging from his pretrial deposition, Trump would have made a horrible witness – spiteful, contradictory, given to falsehoods," O'Brien said.  "So it's a question of the lesser of two evils – a tough choice here."

Jessica Leeds, one of the women who testified last week, claimed that Trump also sexually assaulted her with what seemed like "40 zillion hands" on a flight in the late 1970s.

Another witness, Carroll's longtime friend Lisa Birnbach, took the stand last week and corroborated Carroll's account of the sexual assault. 

She said that Carroll called her about five to seven minutes after the attack happened and told her she had been shopping with Trump in Bergdorf Goodman before he accosted her in a dressing room and "penetrated" her.

During closing arguments, Carroll's legal team also replayed the 2005 "Access Hollywood" video in which Trump bragged that celebrities can grab women by the genitals without their consent. 

Judge Kaplan, who is unrelated to Roberta Kaplan, told jurors that they would begin deliberations Tuesday. 

"Trump's gaffes in his deposition – confusing E. Jean Carroll for Marla Maples, his inability to explain away his admission of assaultive behavior on the Access Hollywood and his demeaning statements about Carroll, other accusers and Carroll's lawyers – all women -- will be highlighted and are prejudicial," Gay said. 

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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Donald Trump E Jean Carroll Furthering Politics Roberta Kaplan