NEW YORK – A jury held Donald Trump accountable for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in 1996, awarding her $5 million in a judgment that could follow the former president as he campaigns for re-election.
The judgment was divided: jurors dismissed Carroll’s rape claim, holding Trump liable for a less serious kind of sexual assault. However, the decision adds to Trump’s legal difficulties and vindicates Carroll, whose charges Trump had insulted and rejected for years.
She nodded as the decision was read out in a federal courtroom in New York City, only hours after deliberations began, before hugging supporters and smiling through tears. Carroll could be heard laughing and crying as the courtroom cleared.
Trump was also found guilty by jurors for defaming Carroll after she made her charges public. Trump did not appear at the civil trial and was not there when the decision was read.
Trump instantly reacted on Twitter, claiming yet again that he does not know Carroll and calling the verdict “a disgrace” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.” He promised to file an appeal.
After the judgement was read, Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, shook hands with Carroll and hugged her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan. Outside the courthouse, he told reporters that the jury’s decision to find Trump not guilty of rape but guilty of sexual assault was “perplexing.”
“Obviously, part of me was very happy that Donald Trump was not labeled a rapist,” he stated.
Carroll was one of several women who accused Trump of sexual assault or harassment. She went public in 2019 with her claim that the Republican assaulted her in a swanky Manhattan department store changing room.
Trump, 76, rejected it, saying he had never met Carroll and had no idea who she was. He has referred to her as a “nut job” who concocted “a fraudulent and false story” in order to sell a memoir.
Carroll, 79, requested unspecified monetary damages as well as a retraction of Trump’s allegedly defamatory denials of her claims.
The trial brought up the contentious issue of Trump’s behavior with women.
Carroll testified for many days, candid and at times emotional, and was supported by two friends who told jurors she told them about the alleged incident minutes and days later.
Jurors also heard from Jessica Leeds, a former stockbroker who testified that Trump forcibly kissed her while she was interviewing him for a 2005 story, and Natasha Stoynoff, a journalist who said Trump forcibly kissed her while she was interviewing him for a 2005 article.
The jury of six men and three women was also shown a 2005 “Access Hollywood” hot mic recording of Trump bragging about kissing and grabbing women without their permission.
The Associated Press does not usually name persons who claim to have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll, Leeds, and Stoynoff have.
The decision comes as Trump faces an onslaught of legal issues.
He is currently battling a criminal prosecution in New York involving hush money payments made to a porn star. The state attorney general has filed a lawsuit against him, his family, and his company for alleged financial malfeasance.
Trump is also facing probes into suspected mismanagement of confidential materials, his behavior during the 2020 election, and his involvement during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurgency at the US Capitol. Trump denies any wrongdoing in any of these cases.
Carroll, who wrote an advice column for Elle magazine for 27 years, has also written for magazines and “Saturday Night Live.” She and Trump were in overlapping social circles at a 1987 party, where a photo of them and their then-spouses chatting was taken. Trump has stated that he has no recollection of it.
Carroll claims she ended up in a dressing room with Trump after they met at Bergdorf Goodman on an undetermined Thursday evening in spring 1996.
Carroll said that they went on an unscheduled trip to the lingerie aisle so he could look for a women’s gift and soon were taunting one other about going on a tiny bodysuit. It appeared to her to be a comedy sketch, similar to her 1986 “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which a man admires himself in a mirror.
However, she claimed that Trump slammed the door, trapped her against a wall, pressed his mouth on hers, ripped her tights down, and raped her as she tried to flee. Carroll claimed she eventually shoved him off with her knee and exited the business.
“I always think back to why I walked in there to get myself into that situation,” she said, her voice shaking, “but I’m proud to say I did get out.”
According to her and them, she immediately confided in two pals. But she never called the cops, told anyone, or recorded anything in her diary about it until her story was released in 2019.
Carroll said she remained silent out of fear of Trump retaliation, guilt, and a perception that other people quietly degrade rape victims and hold them partially accountable for the incident.
From afar, Trump weighed in on the case, calling it “a made up SCAM” in a social media post early in the trial. US District Judge Lewis Kaplan called the statements “entirely inappropriate” and warned the ex-president that if he continued, he may end himself in much greater legal trouble.
Tacopina informed the jurors Carroll made up her charges after hearing about a 2012 “Law and Order” episode in which a woman is raped in the changing room of a Bergdorf Goodman store’s lingerie section.
Carroll “cannot produce any objective evidence to back up her claim because it didn’t happen,” he told the jury. He accused her of “advancing a false rape claim for money, political reasons, and status.”
In questioning Carroll, he attempted to throw doubt on her account of fending off the significantly heavier Trump without dropping her bags or ripping her tights, and without anybody nearby to hear or see them in the expensive retailer’s lingerie section.
The lawyer pressured her on not screaming, looking for help when fleeing the store, or seeking medical attention, security video, or the police, according to her own account.
Carroll chastised him.
“I’m telling you he raped me, whether I screamed or not,” she added.
Trump cannot be charged with assaulting Carroll since the legal time limit has long past.
She first filed her legal action as a defamation complaint for similar grounds, claiming that Trump’s insulting denials had subjected her to hostility, damaged her reputation, and harmed her career.
Then, beginning last fall, New York State allowed victims to sue for sexual assault charges that would ordinarily be too late. Carroll was among the first to file a claim.