A civil lawsuit accusing former president Donald Trump of sexually assaulting and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll opened in New York City on Tuesday with attorneys for both sides signaling they’re prepared for a brutal fight.
Carroll’s attorneys told jurors they would have witnesses—Carroll herself and two other women with similar stories—testify in graphic detail about how Trump forcefully assaulted them, following a playbook he laid out in the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which he bragged he liked to “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” But Trump’s attorneys laid the groundwork for a scathing attack of Carroll, mocking her story and sneering at details, saying she had made up the encounter with Trump because she wanted to be a celebrity.
The trial, which is in federal district court in Manhattan and is expected to last through until next week, is focused on an alleged incident in the mid-1990s. Carroll, who was then a prominent New York City advice columnist and television personality, says she ran into Trump at luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman and agreed to help him shop for a gift for a woman. Carroll, who first wrote of her account of the incident in a 2019 memoir, says that after playful banter, she and Trump ended up in a dressing room in the lingerie section, where he attacked her, slammed her against the wall, forcibly kissed her, grabbed her vagina, and then forced her to have sex. When Carroll went public with the story, he called her a liar, claiming he had never met her and that she was “not my type.” Carroll says that his statements defamed her—she is seeking damages for the assault and the defamation.
Though Carroll is the plaintiff in the case, Shawn Crowley, one of her attorneys, promised the jury would also hear from Jessica Leeds, who says that in 1979 Trump kissed her against her will on an airplane, and Natasha Stoynoff, a People magazine reporter who said Trump pinned her against a wall and forcibly kissed her as well. Their testimony, said Crowley, would show how Trump pursues women.
“This is not a ‘he said/she said’ case,” Crowley told jurors. “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.
Crowley said jurors would also hear the recording of Trump talking on a hot mic to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about how he approaches women—grabbing them, kissing them, and grabbing their vaginas, without asking. “Three women, one pattern,” Crowley said. “Pounce, kiss, grab, grope, don’t wait. When you’re a star you can do anything you want. And when they speak up about what happened, attack, humiliate them, call them liars.”
In his opening statement, Joe Tacopina, Trump’s attorney, started by making it clear he knew how disliked his client is. “It’s okay to feel however you feel—you can hate Donald Trump,” Tacopina said. “But there’s a time and a secret place to do that. It’s called a ballot box.”
Tacopina leaned heavily on creating “a regular guy from New York” persona, mocking the way Bergdorf Goodman calls it’s high-end customers “clients” and regularly complaining about politicians. Mostly, though, Tacopina spent his time at the lectern mocking Carroll’s story. In a thick Brooklyn accent, Tacopina spoke casually, sounding more like a sports-radio caller, sneering and laughing at the idea Carroll was telling the truth. Tacopina repeatedly returned to the fact that Carroll says she doesn’t remember the exact date of the alleged assault, except that she believed it was a Thursday in 1995 or 1996 and in the early evening.
“You’ll learn that E. Jean Carroll can’t tell you the date—it’s a pretty important event in someone’s life, and she can’t remember the date!” Tacopina told jurors.
Tacopina also mocked the fact that Carroll never reported the alleged assault to the police. “No one has ever called the police, including E. Jean Carroll, because that would be a real investigation!” Tacopina said.
Crowley said Carroll will testify that she told two friends about the assault immediately, and one advised her to go to the police and the other warned her not to, because Trump was dangerous.
“She worried Donald Trump would ruin her life and her career if she spoke up,” Crowley said. “She was filled with fear and shame. She kept silent for decades.”
As for a photo that Crowley showed jurors picturing Trump meeting Carroll at an event several years before the alleged assault—which directly contradicts Trump claim he had never met Carroll—Tacopina was again dismissive. “Nah, they didn’t meet at an event,” he scoffed. “That photo was a brief moment in a line at a big event…Of course he doesn’t remember meeting her. Maybe she remembers meeting him!”
Outside of the jurors’ presence, the lawyers for both sides sparred over how the trial will play out, including whether or not Trump will appear. Last week, the judge in the case ruled that he did not have to appear, but when asked if Trump was coming, Tacopina was vague, drawing a rebuke from the judge who told him he needed to know so that court security could prepare. Crowley said she planned to show jurors a tape of Trump testifying under oath for a deposition last fall, including a notable moment when Trump looked at the photo of himself meeting Carroll and misidentified her as his second wife Marla Maples.