Lawyers will make their closing arguments on Monday in the lawsuit against former president Donald Trump accusing him of sexual assault and defamation. Writer E. Jean Carroll alleges that in 1996 Trump raped her in a dressing room at the high-end Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan. Carroll first told her story publicly in 2019, when she published a book that contained her account and Trump reacted angrily, calling her a liar and saying Carroll wasn’t “my type.” Carroll sued him at the time, but the case got bogged down in back-and-forth over whether Trump could be sued while serving as president, but she filed the current lawsuit last November after Trump repeated his comments about her.
On Friday, both sides in the case rested. Over the previous two weeks, Carroll’s attorneys had called a string of witnesses, including Carroll, to bolster her account of the alleged assault and to show that Trump had a pattern of attacking women, one that he described himself in the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
“This is not a ‘he said/she said’ case,” Shawn Crowley, one of Carroll’s attorneys told jurors in her opening statement. “You will hear from two other women who will testify that Donald Trump assaulted them in very much the same way he assaulted Ms. Carroll.”
“Because that is his M.O.,” she added after a pause.
According to Carroll’s testimony, sometime in the spring of 1996 she ran into Trump while she was leaving Bergdorfs. At the time, she was a well-known advice columnist and he was a prominent real estate developer—his signature project and New York City home, Trump Tower, is across the street from Bergdorfs. Carroll said that Trump asked her for advice on choosing a gift for a woman and that they walked around the store together, chatting and flirting. When they reached the lingerie department, Carroll says Trump tried to get her to try on a transparent bodysuit, which she said she had no intention of doing, but she teased him that he should try it on. Carroll testified that she saw the situation as humorous and as potential fodder for a column or a story to tell friends.
“Donald Trump was being very light, it was very joshing and pleasant, and very funny,” she recalled, while on the stand. “Yes, I was flirting the whole time. The comedy was escalating. I didn’t picture anything about what was about to happen.”
Carroll said Trump led her to a dressing room, where he then grabbed her forcefully, slammed her against the wall and began kissing and groping her, putting his hand up her skirt and then inserting his penis. She said she fought him off, fled the store, and immediately told two good friends what had happened. But on the advice of one of them, she decided not to involve the police or tell anyone else because she was frightened of Trump and feared he would sue her and try to destroy her life. In 2019, while writing a book about the relationships between men and women, she decided to tell her story and while she knew there would be blowback, she expected that Trump would just say the incident was consensual.
Instead, Trump blasted her as a liar and said she wasn’t “my type”—in an interview he gave while sitting at the Resolute Desk in the White House. As a result, Carroll says she lost her job, had her reputation destroyed, and has endured years of constant vitriolic attacks online, including serious death threats.
Trump has denied the whole incident occurred, and said he doesn’t know Carroll.
Jurors did hear from two other women who claimed to have been assaulted by Trump in a similar way to Carroll’s account—Natasha Stoynoff, a journalist who said Trump grabbed her and pushed her against the wall and kissed her at Mar-a-Lago, and Jessica Leeds, who alleges that Trump grabbed her, groped her, and forcefully kissed her on an airplane when they were seated next to each other.
Trump’s attorneys called no witnesses before they rested their case on Friday. In his opening statement, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina said that he would show that Carroll was lying about the incident as a scheme to make herself famous and hurt Trump politically. Tacopina said he would use Carroll’s own story—and any gaps or inconsistencies—to show jurors they shouldn’t “believe the unbelievable.” However, when given an opportunity to cross-examine Carroll, Tacopina seemed to struggle to make any headway. His persistent questioning about exactly when the alleged assault occurred (Carroll has maintained she doesn’t know the precise date) eventually drew a rebuke from Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the case, to move on.
When Tacopina tried to question Carroll on why she didn’t scream while Trump allegedly attacked her, she seemed to turn the tables on him. As I wrote at the time:
“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.”
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.”
While traveling in Europe last week, Trump said he planned to return to the United States early because he wanted to confront Carroll in the courtroom, but his attorney has repeatedly insisted that Trump will not attend the hearing. Kaplan said that Trump has until 5 p.m. Sunday to change his mind about coming to court—if he comes on Monday, he will be allowed to testify.
However, large portions of a sworn deposition that Trump gave last fall have been played in court—and legally are considered the same as testimony—and Trump may not have helped his case. At one point in the deposition, when asked about his comments in the Access Hollywood tape, Trump appeared to doubledown on the idea that famous men can get away with sexually assaulting women.
“If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately,” Trump told Carroll’s attorney.
Kaplan quoted Trump’s “grab ‘em’” comment in the “Access Hollywood” tape, and he said, “Historically, that’s true with stars.”
“It’s true with stars that — that they can grab women by the pussy?”
“If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true.” pic.twitter.com/iet18Us3x5
— Molly Crane-Newman (@molcranenewman) May 5, 2023
At another point, Trump, who has said he never met Carroll, was shown a photo of the two meeting at a party in the late 1980s, while accompanied by their spouses. And, although Trump has said Carroll is “not my type,” he mistakenly identified a picture of Carroll as his second wife, Marla Maples, before his own attorney corrected him.
If Trump does not change his mind about coming to court, attorneys for both sides will debate what the jury instructions should be and then present their closing arguments. Jurors in the case will begin their deliberations by the end of the day or Tuesday morning. Carroll’s lawsuit doesn’t specify the damages she’s seeking if Trump is found liable for assaulting and defaming her, but an expert witness on Friday testified that she has suffered between $368,000 and $2.7 million in damages due to her loss of reputation, and jurors could choose to add punitive damages, which are essentially unlimited, on top of that.