The Stunning Clarity of the E. Jean Carroll–Donald Trump Verdict
“Donald Trump’s defense here is essentially that there is a vast conspiracy against him,” E. Jean Carroll’s attorney Roberta Kaplan said in a Manhattan federal courtroom on Monday.
“Does that make any sense at all?” she added in her closing remarks in the civil trial against the former president. Carroll, the longtime Elle columnist and magazine writer, accused Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-’90s in a 2019 memoir excerpt for New York. Kaplan was posing a question that’s occupied much of the nation’s political attention in the years that have followed. After Carroll filed suit against Trump late last year for battery and defamation, it was one that played out for nine jurors.
On Tuesday, they found the former president liable for sexual abuse and defamation after less than three hours of deliberations, and awarded Carroll $5 million in damages. The jury found Trump not liable for rape.
During her closing argument, Kaplan showed a chart of Carroll’s allegations alongside those of two other women, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff, who testified in the trial. Their accusations of sexual assault, all of which Trump has denied, shared common elements: “Semi-Public Place,” “Grab Suddenly,” and “Not My Type.”
“Three different women, decades apart…but one single pattern of behavior,” Kaplan said. “In that respect, what happened to E. Jean Carroll is not unique.”
Carroll sued Trump in November after the passage of a New York law that granted a one-year window for adult sexual abuse victims to bring lawsuits against their alleged abusers after the statute of limitations has expired. (The trial took place in federal court because Trump now lives in Florida.) Carroll has written about her initial allegation in 2019 and her experience of the blowback that followed when Trump denied her claim.
The proceedings in the case often amounted to a more detailed explication of the consequences she’s felt, as well as an examination of the kind of comments Trump has made so often throughout his six or so decades in the public eye that they tend to get taken for granted—including his most infamous. In her closing remarks on Monday, Kaplan had invoked the Access Hollywood video, shot in 2005 and leaked in 2016, weeks before Trump’s victory in the presidential race. Recalling the laughing tone Trump was caught on tape using to describe sexual assault, Kaplan said he “grabbed [Carroll] by the pussy.” Trump declined to testify at trial but a video deposition he gave for the case provided a fresh look at his familiar demeanor; he described Kaplan in the same way he did Carroll when he denied her initial allegation, saying that the attorney was not his type.
“Carroll’s narration of her own experience after coming forward is a pretty good example of the kind of misogyny that Trumpism embraces,” my colleague Molly Jong-Fast recently wrote, “and the impact it can have on those brave enough to step up.”
Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina argued in his own closing remarks on Monday that there was in fact such a conspiracy as the one Kaplan invoked. He acknowledged that Trump’s comments in the Access Hollywood tape were “crude” and “rude” and said that he apologized for them. “He said that,” Tacopina said. “But that doesn’t make Ms. Carroll’s unbelievable story believable.”
At a campaign rally in 2016, Trump spoke about Stoynoff’s allegation of sexual assault and offered a defense he would go on to use again and again.
“Look at her,” he said. “I don’t think so.”