May 24, 2024

© Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
E. Jean Carroll walks to federal court in Manhattan.

NEW YORK — E. Jean Carroll, a writer who has accused Donald Trump of raping her nearly three decades ago, testified Wednesday in searing detail about what she says was a brutal assault carried out by the future president of the United States.

Taking the stand as part of her lawsuit against Trump, Carroll laid out the core of her case against him: Trump violently attacked her, Carroll said, leaving her emotionally scarred. And when she publicly accused him decades later, Carroll said, Trump’s denials caused her further torment.

“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen,” Carroll said. “He lied and shattered my reputation, and I’m here to try to get my life back.”

Trump has said the episode never happened and assailed Carroll, calling her a liar. She sued him for battery and defamation last year, leading to the civil trial unfolding in Manhattan.

Jury hears opening statements in E. Jean Carroll lawsuit against Trump

Carroll said the attack took place when she ran into Trump at Bergdorf Goodman, an upscale Manhattan department store, in the mid-1990s. They were both public figures who, Carroll said, ran in similar media circles: Trump was a celebrity real estate magnate and tabloid fixture, while Carroll was an advice columnist with a cable news TV show.

They recognized each other, Carroll said, and their encounter started off light and fun. Trump was “very personable,” she said. He wanted help picking a gift for another woman, Carroll said, and she was “delighted” to come along.

But things quickly turned dark, she said.

Carroll testified that she went into a dressing room with Trump. Then, she alleged, he restrained her and forced his fingers inside of her. It was “extremely painful,” Carroll said. She testified in graphic terms about this assault and Trump raping her. Carroll escaped after kneeing him and fleeing the room, she said.

In her testimony, Carroll said she was permanently shaken by the attack and “unable to ever have a romantic life again.” Carroll also testified about feeling guilt over flirting with Trump before the attack, saying she never filed a police report in part because she blamed herself for what happened.

“I always think about why I walked in there to get myself in that situation,” she said. “And I’m proud to say I did get out. I got my knee up, I pushed him back.”

What to know about E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit against Trump

Carroll’s testimony, which lasted about three and a half hours, dominated the second day of her civil trial against Trump. Throughout this testimony, the nine-member jury remained focused on Carroll as the 79-year-old detailed events spanning her entire life. She is expected to take the stand again Thursday and continue her testimony; the trial will likely last until at least next week.

Trump has denied attacking Carroll and said she made everything up, leading her to sue him last year for battery and defamation. Carroll is seeking unspecified damages, along with a court order forcing Trump to retract a statement he posted on social media last year calling her a liar.

Trump’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, is expected to question Carroll on Thursday. He will likely ask questions meant to undermine her credibility, including possibly highlighting a passage in her memoir where she describes being unaffected by Trump’s attack. Much of Carroll’s testimony on Wednesday — conducted as part of direct examination by one of her attorneys, Michael Ferrara — appeared aimed at fending off anticipated challenges by Trump’s side.

D.C. court won’t say if Trump’s rape claim denial is presidential duty

Even as this trial continues, Trump is still facing an array of other legal threats and investigative scrutiny, including criminal charges in Manhattan, a fraud lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general and ongoing investigations into his handling of classified material and his efforts to block Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election. Trump, who is seeking another term in the White House, has denied wrongdoing in all cases and assailed his investigators as politically motivated.

Whether Trump will follow Carroll onto the witness stand during the trial remains an open question.

His attorneys have not said whether Trump will testify or appear in court, instead saying a decision will be made during the trial. Trump has no obligation to do either, and Carroll’s attorneys have said they do not need to call him because they can play a recording from his deposition in the case.

Even in absentia, Trump’s words filtered into the courtroom Wednesday before Carroll took the stand. In social media postings on Wednesday morning, Trump called Carroll’s allegations “a made up SCAM” and “a fraudulent & false story.”

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who is overseeing the case, warned Tacopina, Trump’s attorney, that his client appeared close to crossing a line with his posts. Tacopina argued that the posts were not inappropriate, but said he would talk to his client about the concerns.

Tacopina had dismissed Carroll’s story as “unbelievable” in his opening statement Tuesday, noting what he called “the lack of details” in her account. Among other things, he pointed to her not knowing what date the alleged attack took place. He also suggested Carroll was making a false rape claim, in part, for political reasons.

Carroll has said she is not bringing her lawsuit for political reasons, and she seemed to push back against the idea in her testimony on Wednesday. Carroll, a registered Democrat, testified that she can “hardly” describe her politics, though she acknowledged thinking Trump was a “terrible” president.

2019: Trump denies sexual assault claim

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Since Carroll first publicly accused Trump of rape in 2019, she has told the story again and again — in a book published that year, during media interviews and through court filings.

But on Wednesday, for the first time, Carroll told her story while sitting in a courtroom before a jury of her peers, asking the legal system to believe her account and punish the man she says piled insult atop injury.

While testifying, Carroll said the alleged attack traumatized her, casting a decades-long shadow across her life and preventing her from having romantic relationships or sex with other men. The guilt she felt over flirting with Trump, she said, still lingered in her mind.

“I couldn’t force myself to show a man … that I liked him,” she said. “It just led to terrible consequences.”

During her testimony, Carroll also described other times men brutalized her, sharing other disturbing accounts from her life, including an ex-husband she said choked her three separate times and a camp counselor she alleged sexually assaulted her when she was 12.

While on the stand, Carroll said that when she publicly accused Trump, she expected him to respond saying the encounter was consensual.

Carroll is among more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, including allegations that he groped or kissed them against their will. Trump has denied all of their accusations, called the women liars and, in some cases, insulted their appearances.

After Carroll accused him in 2019, Trump followed the same playbook, insisting he did not know her and saying that she “is not telling the truth.” Trump has also described her as “not my type.”

Asked to interpret that remark on Wednesday, Carroll said: “It means that besides me being a liar and a woman out to sell book, and an operative of the Democratic Party … I’m also too ugly to rape.”

The status of key investigations involving Donald Trump

Carroll’s attorneys plan to call two of Trump’s other accusers to the stand during the trial. In her opening statement on Tuesday, one of Carroll’s attorneys said these women will “testify that Donald Trump assaulted them in very much the same way he assaulted Ms. Carroll, because that is his M.O.”

In addition to the case unfolding in New York, Carroll filed another lawsuit against Trump in 2019 that accused him of defaming her with his denials. That case still remains unresolved. The Justice Department has argued Trump was responding to her as the president and said the federal government should be substituted as the defendant; the issue is still pending in the courts.

Carroll has said that after telling two friends about the attack, she decided to remain silent for more than two decades, fearful of what would happen if she spoke out. On Wednesday, Carroll acknowledged repeatedly regretting her decision to make her accusations public in 2019.

By that time, Trump was in the White House, commanded enormous attention and had a throng of devoted supporters. Carroll said some people sent her supportive messages, but added that they were drowned out by angry notes and threats.

“People with no opinion now thought of me as a liar and they hated me,” she testified, sounding anguished. “The force of that hatred was staggering.”

But she also testified about feeling a sense of elation at getting a chance to share her account in a courtroom.

“Being able to get my day in court finally is everything to me, so I’m happy,” Carroll said, as she lost her composure and blotted her face with a tissue. “I’m happy. I’m crying that I’ve gotten to tell my story in court.”

Berman reported from Washington.