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The political ramifications of Trump being found liable for sexual assault

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A jury has unanimously found former President Donald Trump liable for battery, sexual abuse and defamation in a civil trial in New York. This was just hours ago. The writer E. Jean Carroll brought the case. It stems from an incident back in the '90s at Bergdorf Goodman, an upscale Manhattan department store. Carroll was also awarded $5 million. Now, these are not the only charges against Trump. And this is happening, of course, at a time when he stands as the current Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination, and the primary campaign is about to enter full swing. So to talk about the political ramifications of all this is NPR senior political editor and correspondent, Domenico Montanaro. Hey there.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey - good to be with you.

KELLY: I want to note we have, of course, been talking about Donald Trump and allegations of sexual misconduct for years now. Voters have been aware of these allegations for years now, so I imagine one question is how much this might move the needle on how voters view him.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, almost two dozen women had come out before the 2016 presidential election, accusing the former president - now-former president - of sexual misconduct or abuse allegations. You know, remember; he also talked openly on that "Access Hollywood" tape that came out just before the 2016 election - that he still won. So it's easy to see...

KELLY: Which was played before jurors in this trial, yeah.

MONTANARO: It was. It was. And, you know, so it's easy to see how this might not change the political landscape, you know? And certainly, it's hard to see how it will because a lot of these views are baked in. You know, there was one poll respondent that I spoke to last week from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll who had said that he would vote for Trump even if he was convicted of a crime because he agrees with Trump that these charges and cases have been made up - that they're false allegations and he can't get a fair trial in New York.

KELLY: OK. What about Republican candidates? - because, again, we are headed into primary season, full primary season. What are you watching for there?

MONTANARO: Yeah. You know, we really have to note that these are - this is serious - right? - and, you know, hardly been any reactions to this from Republicans and Republican candidates. And what's really shocking about that, to be honest, is when usually something like this were to happen and you're running in a primary campaign to be president, and other people want to beat you - you know? - they might use this kind of thing against you. But those candidates just aren't sure how to sort of deal with Trump and his base. The only person who's really kind of going after Trump and is a familiar name is Liz Cheney, the former Wyoming congresswoman who lost to a Trump-backed candidate for her reelection run there and could run for president, potentially. She went up with an ad in New Hampshire today attacking Trump over January 6. Listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

LIZ CHENEY: Donald Trump has proven he is unfit for office. Donald Trump is a risk America can never take again.

MONTANARO: Yeah, and she has some serious money in her PAC - could certainly make things a little irritable for Trump. But other candidates - you know, Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who could run; Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina; Tim Scott, the senator from South Carolina - big names - haven't touched these accusations at all.

KELLY: Domenico, in the few seconds we have left, has Trump responded to today's news?

MONTANARO: He did. He took to his social media platform and claimed that he didn't know E. Jean Carroll, never mind that nothing happened, he says. Trump had claimed Carroll wasn't his type. But then, at the deposition of Trump that was played at the trial, he confused Carroll with his second wife, Marla Maples. So, you know, this is something that I think we can expect he's going to appeal. He said he would appeal even before there was a decision.

KELLY: That is NPR's Domenico Montanaro. And elsewhere in the program, we will hear from our reporter who has been there in the courtroom in New York. Domenico, thanks.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.