In his opening statement in the ongoing civil sexual assault and defamation trial against former president Donald Trump, his attorney Joe Tacopina was aggressive, scathing and snarling in his attacks on E. Jean Carroll, the writer who has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1997.
By Carroll’s admission, her story contains inconsistencies. She can’t remember the date the assault occurred, for example, and has said she doesn’t know why she went into the dressing room with Trump that day. In his opener, Tacopina told the jury he would expose all of Carroll’s inconsistencies, show that she was indeed the liar Trump claimed her to be, and prove she made up the entire story in pursuit of public attention.
But on Thursday, when Tacopina, a burly, muscular man with a growling deep voice and a thick Brooklyn accent, had his chance to question Carroll, a former fixture of New York media society, now 79, he hit a brick wall. Carroll parried his initial attempts to unravel inconsistencies in her story, so the lawyer proceeded to grill her on slight inconsistencies between her testimony in a deposition last fall and what she has said on the stand this week. Those efforts left even the judge, Lewis Kaplan, appearing exasperated, and snapping at Tacopina to move on.
But when Tacopina tried to challenge Carroll about why she did not scream when Trump was allegedly raping her violently, Carroll ultimately delivered a strong rebuke.
“I’m not a screamer, I was in too much of a panic, I was fighting,” she responded to his initial query.
Tacopina pressed further—and Carroll pushed back. “You can’t beat up on me for not screaming,” she said, firmly.
“I’m not beating you up!” Tacopina said, appearing flustered.
“Women who don’t come forward—one of the reasons they don’t come forward is because they all get asked, ‘Why didn’t you scream?'” Carroll said, her voice rising. “Some women scream, some women don’t. It keeps them silent.”
“You’d better have a good excuse as to why you didn’t scream; if you don’t scream, you weren’t raped,” Carroll continued, mocking his line of questioning. “I’m telling you, he raped me, whether I screamed or not!”
At this point, Carroll began to cry.
Tacopina asked whether she needed a moment. “No, you go on,” she said icily. “I don’t need an excuse for not screaming.”
A few moments later, Tacopina tried asking Carroll if she really was frightened of Trump and if he really had the power to destroy her life, as she said she feared he might. Carroll replied that the evidence was in front of them. “I was afraid Donald Trump would retaliate, which is exactly what he did,” she said. “He has two tables full of lawyers here today. It came absolutely true.”
According to Carroll, sometime in the spring of 1996, when she had an advice column and a twice-weekly TV show, both with national reach, she ran into Trump at the entrance to the high-end New York City department store Bergdorf Goodman.
She contends that Trump, whom she had met briefly and knew by his public reputation, asked her for advice on buying a gift for a woman, so she wandered around the store with him. Carroll said he was charming and the two were flirtatious, and that, when they reached the lingerie section, they had a playful back-and-forth about which one of them should try on a see-through body suit.
Carroll says Trump then ushered her into an empty dressing room, which she entered laughing, whereupon he abruptly pounced on her, slammed her against the wall, forcefully kissed her, put his hand up her skirt, and then raped her. Trump denies that the incident ever occurred, and when Carroll first told the story publicly in 2019, in a book she wrote, he publicly called her a liar and said Carroll’s accusation was obviously false because she was “not my type.” Last fall, after Trump repeated these comments, she sued him for assault and defamation.
Carroll testified on her own behalf on Wednesday, with her attorney guiding her carefully through areas the defense would likely try to use to undermine her credibility—her inability to give an exact date, why she said she laughed initially during the attack, and why she didn’t speak out publicly for decades. Tacopina did ask about the date issue several times during his cross-examination of Carroll Thursday morning—until Judge Kaplan finally told him to move on.
The rest of Tacopina’s day wasn’t much better. Kaplan scolded him numerous times for phrasing questions ambiguously, and when he tried to hone in on particular discrepancies he saw in Carroll’s story, Kaplan admonished him. For example, when Tacopina pressed her continually about whether there was no one else in the store at the time of the assault—she testified she hadn’t seen anyone above the first floor, but added that she was not looking, because she was engaged in conversation with Trump—Kaplan snapped again.
“Mr. Tacopina, you have your answer, move it along,” he said. When Tacopina persisted with his line of questioning, Kaplan intervened. “Look, you get to make a closing case in on this argument, and this isn’t the time for it,” the judge said. “This is argumentative, it’s repetitive, and it’s inappropriate.”
When the lawyer protested, Kaplan cut him off, adding: “I’m sorry Mr. Tacopina, we’re going to move on. In this courtroom, the ruling is the ruling, not the start of a conversation.”
Later, when Tacopina expressed disbelief that Carroll had tried to fight off Trump and eventually managed to get one leg up and push him off of her, despite her wearing four-inch heels, she hit back again, citing Tacopina’s public sharing of his intense workout regimen. “I can dance backwards and forwards in four-inch heels—I can lift one foot,” she said. “You work out all the time; we’ve all read about it. You understand feet.”
Tacopina will continue cross-examining Carroll on Tuesday.