Donald Trump made an “entirely inappropriate” online statement about the trial of a rape lawsuit against him, the judge said on Wednesday, warning the former president’s lawyers that he could bring more legal problems upon himself.
The exchange came a day into the trial to decide E Jean Carroll’s allegations. As court was about to begin Wednesday, Mr Trump — who has not attended so far — posted on his social media platform that the case “is a made-up scam”.
He went on to call Ms Carroll’s lawyer “a political operative” and allude to a DNA issue that the judge has ruled cannot be part of the case.
“This is a fraudulent & false story — Witch Hunt!” Mr Trump wrote in his Truth Social post.
“What seems to be the case is that your client is basically endeavouring, certainly, to speak to his quote-unquote public, but, more troubling, the jury in this case about stuff that has no business being spoken about,” the judge told Mr Trump’s lawyers.
He called Mr Trump’s post “a public statement that, on the face of it, seems entirely inappropriate”.
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina noted that jurors are told not to follow any news or online commentary about the case. But he said he would ask Mr Trump “to refrain from any further posts about this case”.
“I hope you’re more successful,” Judge Kaplan said, adding that Mr Trump “may or may not be tampering with a new source of potential liability”.
Ms Carroll, 79, may testify as soon as Wednesday.
She has said she crossed paths with Mr Trump at the revolving door to Bergdorf Goodman on an unspecified spring Thursday evening in 1996. At the time, she was writing a long-running advice column in Elle magazine. Mr Trump was a real estate magnate and social figure in New York.
She has said he asked her advice about selecting a gift for a woman, and she went along, thinking the experience would be funny. According to Ms Carroll, they ended up in a lingerie department, joked with each other about who should try on a bodysuit and went to a dressing room.
Then, she alleges, Mr Trump slammed her against a wall, yanked down her tights and raped her while she struggled against him. She has said she finally kneed him off her and fled.
Mr Trump, 76, has said he was not at the store with Ms Carroll and had no clue who she was when she first aired the story publicly in a 2019 memoir and accompanying magazine excerpt.
“I know nothing about this nut job,” he said during sworn questioning in the lawsuit last fall.
He said it was “a false accusation — never happened, never would happen”.
The trial comes as Mr Trump again seeks the Republican nomination for president, and weeks after he pleaded not guilty to unrelated criminal charges that involve payments made to silence a porn actor who said she had a sexual encounter with him.
Ms Carroll’s federal lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a retraction of his allegedly defamatory comments.
The suit was filed under a New York law that temporarily lets decades-old sexual abuse claims go to civil court. She never pursued criminal charges.