What’s behind sexual assault lawsuit against Donald Trump?
As Donald Trump ran for and served as president, over a dozen women publicly accused him of sexual assault and harassment. Most of those claims — all denied by Trump — were never taken to court. None has gone to trial. But that is about to change.
Jury selection starts Tuesday in E. Jean Carroll’s rape lawsuit in a New York federal court. The former Elle magazine advice columnist alleges that Trump raped her in a luxury department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.
Carroll’s civil case has taken a winding road to trial. It now comes as Trump is seeking to return to the White House and battling a roster of legal problems, including his recent indictment on charges of doctoring his business’ records to conceal hush-money payments to a porn star.
Here’s a look at the case and some key questions:
WHAT’S THE CASE ABOUT?
Carroll says a chance meeting with Trump at Bergdorf Goodman suddenly turned into sexual violence in 1995 or 1996. According to her court complaint, Trump ushered her to a fitting room after they joked about trying on a bodysuit, and then he pinned her against the wall and forced himself on her as she tried to break free.
She said she ultimately kneed him away and ran out of the store. Two of Carroll’s friends have said she told them about the alleged attack soon afterward. She never informed police or anyone else until she recounted the story in a 2019 memoir and magazine excerpt. (The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll did.)
WHAT DOES TRUMP SAY HAPPENED?
Nothing whatsoever. “She said that I did something to her that never took place. There was no anything,” Trump said when Carroll’s lawyers questioned him under oath in October. He denies even bumping into her at the store and has accused her of making up the story to sell her book. When her account was first published, Trump said he had no idea who she was, shrugging off a photo that showed the two and their then-spouses interacting at a 1987 social event. When shown the picture again during his questioning in October, Trump misidentified Carroll as his ex-wife Marla Maples. His prior ex, the late Ivana Trump, is in the photo.
ARE THERE EYEWITNESSES? ANY VIDEO? FORENSIC EVIDENCE?
Carroll’s legal team says there were no eyewitnesses to the alleged attack, and any security video that might have existed is long gone. For years, Carroll sought to test Trump’s DNA against unidentified male genetic material found on a dress that she says she wore and never laundered. His lawyers long fought her request for a sample until February, when they offered a deal: To rebut her claim, he’d give the sample if her attorneys turned over the full DNA report on the dress. The judge said it was too late. Jurors won’t hear about the DNA and the dress at all.
WILL TRUMP BE AT THE TRIAL?
His presence isn’t required and doesn’t appear likely. Trump’s lawyers have said that he wants to attend but that the security needed for such an appearance would burden the city and court. The judge, for his part, has expressed confidence that Trump can be protected in the lower Manhattan courthouse, where security already is tight.
Even if Trump isn’t there, jurors will hear from him via video of his questioning last fall. Carroll, meanwhile, plans to attend every day and to testify, according to her attorneys.
IS THERE A POSSIBILITY OF CRIMINAL PROSECUTION?
No. The legal time limit for pressing criminal charges ran out long ago.
THEN WHY IS THIS CIVIL CASE IN COURT NOW?
It’s complicated. When Carroll first came forward, the time limit for suing over a rape had expired. But after Trump reacted to her allegations by saying she was “ not my type ” and “totally lying,” Carroll filed a defamation suit against him in 2019. That case ground along as Trump’s lawyers fought it in various ways, including by shifting it from state to federal court and asserting that Trump’s remarks were part of his job as president — an argument that could have sunk the defamation claim.
The courts are now weighing that question. But in the meantime, New York gave people a chance to sue over long-ago sexual abuse claims. Carroll was among the first to do so. (Her case remained in federal court, however.) And Trump has continued to publicly portray Carroll as a liar, which has become the basis of a new defamation claim that will also be addressed at the trial.
WHAT DOES CARROLL WANT?
A retraction and unspecified damages.
WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER WOMEN WHO ACCUSED TRUMP OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT?
Two of them are due to testify in Carroll’s case. Jurors also are expected to hear the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” hot-mic recording of Trump crudely boasting that fame gave him carte blanche to kiss and grope women. Not involved in the case are two other women who sued Trump after going public with claims that he made unwanted sexual advances. Those cases were dismissed or dropped.
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