Donald Trump is liable of sexual assault against E Jean Carroll, a jury in a civil trial has found.
The magazine columnist was awarded £4 million in a judgement that could haunt the former US President’s campaign to return to the White House in 2024. The jury dismissed the claim that Trump raped Ms Carroll in the 1990s, but found him liable of both sexual abuse and of defaming her after she made her allegations public.
The jury in the trial took only a few hours to come to a decision. Trump, who did not attend the trial, has insisted he never sexually assaulted Ms Carroll - and at times claimed he had never met her.
He re-iterated these protestations in an angry social media rant post-verdict, writing on Truth Social: “I have absolutely no idea who this woman is. The verdict is a disgrace – a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.”
Meanwhile, Ms Carroll told reporters: “I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
In closing statements, Ms Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan argued that Trump “is a witness against himself” as she cited excerpts from his own deposition as well as his notorious “grab ‘em by the pussy” comments. “He didn’t even bother to show up here in person,” Ms Kaplan continued. “He knows what he did. He knows that he sexually assaulted E Jean Carroll.”
Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina countered that while the former US President’s remarks in the infamous Access Hollywood tape are “rude” and “gross”, that “doesn’t make Ms Carroll’s unbelievable story believable”.
But while jurors rejected the rape allegation, they found Trump guilty of sexual abuse (‘battery’), which Judge Lewis A Kaplan had explained as subjecting Ms Carroll to sexual contact without consent by use of force - and doing so for the purpose of sexual gratification.
Ms Carroll also won defamation claims stemming from a statement Trump made on social media last October, when he claimed the columnist and author was a “nut job” who had created a “false and fraudulent” story. Judge Kaplan told jurors they needed to be guided by a higher legal standard of “clear and convincing evidence”.
They decided it was “highly probable” that Trump’s statement was false and made maliciously, with deliberate intent to injure, or made out of hatred or ill will, with reckless disregard for the rights of Ms Carroll.
Ms Carroll filed a lawsuit after the introduction of the new Adult Survivors Act, which was introduced in New York on Thursday 24 November. While the statute of limitations would usually prevent alleged victims from bringing legal action against alleged perpetrators after a certain time period has passed, the new legislation now allows for suits to be brought forward.
As the case was a civil not a criminal one, Trump will only face financial sanctions. Ms Carroll has been awarded $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages - about $2 million on the sexual abuse count and about $3 million for defamation.
It comes after Trump, who recently launched a presidential bid for 2024, in April pleaded not guilty to 34 criminal charges of falsifying business records over a hush-money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, allegedly made during his 2016 election campaign.
He also faces further criminal inquiries over his role in the riot at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, his alleged retention of secret documents, and his alleged pressure on officials to fix the Georgia’s vote in his favour in 2020.
What did E Jean Carroll allege?
Carroll alleged she was raped by the former US President in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman, across the street from Trump Tower in New York, in the mid 1990s.
She testified that she and Trump had chatted and engaged in banter after a chance encounter at the luxury store one evening in 1996, but that after taking an escalator up to a deserted sixth floor to look for lingerie, Trump led her to a dressing room, pushed her up against a wall, and sexually assaulted her.
“It was extremely painful,” Ms Carroll told the jury. “He put his hand inside me and curled his finger. As I sit here today, I can still feel it.”
In the lawsuit, she was seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages saying she suffered “significant pain and suffering, lasting psychological harm, loss of dignity, and invasion of her privacy”. Ms Carroll also described how the traumatic experience had left her incapable of forming romantic relationships.
Speaking on her claims of defamation, she said she would be inundated with a “wave of slime” on social media every time Trump commented or posted about her allegations.
Carroll had previously been unable to file a lawsuit over her allegations as state law prevented her from doing so after a certain time period due to the statue of limitations. However, the newly-introduced Adults Survivors Act enabled her to pursue legal action.
What has Trump said about the lawsuit?
Trump has repeatedly denied all accusations and described them as “fiction”. He has often taken to social media site Truth Social to discuss the case, claiming in various posts that it is a “witch hunt” and a made up SCAM”.
He has previously claimed to not know Ms Carroll - before later mistaking her for his second wife Marla Maples. He also argued that the incident could never have happened as the magazine columnist was “not [his] type”.
Prior to the verdict being announced on Tuesday (9 May), Trump falsely claimed he “wasn’t able to defend” himself in the trial after he rejected an offer to testify. He wrote that he was “waiting for a jury decision on a False Accusation where I, despite being a current political candidate and leading all others in both parties, am not allowed to speak or defend myself, even as hard nosed reporters scream questions about this case at me”.
Then, once the verdict was revealed, Trump wrote: “I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO THIS WOMAN IS. THIS VERDICT IS A DISGRACE - A CONTINUATION OF THE GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME!”
Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, also previously dismissed the claims against her client, telling the Associated Press: “While I respect and admire individuals that come forward, this case is unfortunately an abuse of the purpose of this Act which creates a terrible precedent and runs the risk of delegitimising the credibility of actual victims.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s current lawyer, Joe Tacopina, told the jury that Ms Carroll made up her claims after hearing about a 2012 episode of TV show Law And Order, in which a woman is raped in the dressing room of the lingerie section of a Bergdorf Goodman store. “They modelled their secret scheme on an episode of one of the most popular shows on television,” he said.
Two of Ms Carroll’s friends said she told them about the encounter with Mr Trump shortly after it happened, many years before the Law And Order episode aired.
What is the Adult Survivors Act?
The Adult Survivors Act is a newly-introduced piece of legislation in New York which allowz historical victims of sexual assault to file lawsuits if the state of limitations has lapsed in their case. The law will only allow victims to file for the next year, with the normal statutes being reintroduced this time next year.
The Adult Survivors Act is a successor to the Child Abuse Act, which was introduced in 2019 in the state. This law allowed for those who were victims of abuse when they were a child to file a lawsuit as an adult against an individual or organisation. Around 11,000 lawsuits have since been filed against institutions such as churches and hospitals.
The law is expected to open the door for thousands of lawsuits to be filed against historic complaints. Campaigners have praised the act for giving victims who have not had any legal routes to file due to the statute of limitations an opportunity to come forward.