- A federal jury in Manhattan found Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll.
- The jury found Trump more likely than not abused Carroll, but they stopped short of a rape finding.
- Carroll’s own testimony offers clues to why they balked at Carroll’s most serious allegation.
Magazine writer E. Jean Carroll was excruciatingly vivid, on the witness stand, in describing what former President Donald Trump did to her with his hands.
“It was a horrible feeling because he curved, he put his hand inside of me and curved his finger,” she told the Manhattan federal jury on April 25, the first day of trial.
That jury on Tuesday awarded her $5 million in damages, after finding Trump civilly liable for sexual battery, but not for rape.
“As I’m sitting here today, I can still feel it,” she told the jury, about being digitally penetrated.
Those details from Carroll herself are among the evidence that easily convinced a six-man, three-woman civil jury that Trump, 76, more likely than not committed a vile sex offense against her — “battery” in legal parlance. It was a conclusion reached after less than three hours of deliberations.
But when Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, asked the writer what Trump did to her next, her description was far less vivid.
Despite the emotion behind it, Carroll’s answer could have been a quote from a lawsuit or criminal complaint.
“Then he inserted his penis,” Carroll testified.
When Kaplan next asked, “What did you do in that moment?” Carroll lost her composure briefly, the first of three times she cried in her three days of testimony.
The question remained unanswered.
The jury quickly agreed Trump was liable of sexual abuse, but not rape
It wasn’t Carroll’s testimony alone that left jurors confident enough to unanimously decide he’s more likely than not a sexual abuser.
Trump’s own words may have also been convincing.
Jurors saw his notorious Access Hollywood tape, in which he boasts of grabbing women by the genitalia. They also saw a video of Trump’s trial deposition, in which he brushes off the Access Hollywood tape as “locker room banter” without ever denying the truth of what he says on it.
“Historically, that’s true with stars,” Trump says, in the videotaped deposition, of how famous men can get away with grabbing women, an assertion Carroll attorney Michael J. Ferrara called a “confession.”
But despite their agreement on sexual abuse, the jury could not reach that same level of certainty on the question of whether Trump also raped Carroll during that same mid-1990s attack, when a lighthearted, chance meeting at the Bergdorf Goodman department store, just across from Trump Tower, turned brutal.
It likely didn’t help that on cross examination, Trump defense attorney Joe Tacopina pointed out that Carroll was less than clear in her 2019 memoir, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal,” the book in which she accused Trump of rape.
“In your book you wrote that he was ‘forcing his fingers around my private area and then thrust his penis halfway completely, I’m not certain, inside me.’ Is that accurate?” he asked Carroll.
“Yes,” she answered.
Tacopina — who won an acquittal the last time he faced a rape accuser in court — also cast doubt on the mechanics of the battle Carroll described — their “colossal” dressing room struggle, as Tacopino called it nearly a dozen times, always sarcastically.
“We were basically the same height,” Carroll told Tacopina during cross examination.
“Because I was wearing four-inch heels and I was 5′ 9″ at the time, so 6′ 1′,” she testified.
“So you are saying,” Tacopina asked, “that you got your knee up to his — it would be waist, as high as his waist?”
She answered, “No, below his waist.”
“Four-inch heels,” Tacopina repeated, sounding skeptical, as the cross-examination continued.
“It’s your story that you did this while balancing on four-inch heels, you said?”
“I can dance backwards and forwards in four-inch heels,” she snapped back. “I can raise one leg in heels.”
Tacopina revisited the “colossal” battle in his summations.
“Her tights didn’t rip after this colossal struggle?” he asked jurors. “And the physical act itself is impossible,” he added.
He went on to conjure up an image of what he painted as an unlikely scene.
“Ms. Carroll described here what she described, that Donald Trump, with his shoulder pushed against her chest, while her knees — her tights are pulled down above her knees while she is stomping him with four inch heels, hitting him,” he said. “He must have managed somehow with that other hand to open his pants and during the struggle, somehow engaged in a sexual act with her while she is standing up, stamping her feet, with her legs being pulled together by tights above her knee?”
The jury, who remained anonymous, left the federal courthouse without commenting. Unless any of them speaks out, it can’t be known what persuaded them to find, so quickly, that Trump is liable for battery but not rape.
Still, when an expert psychologist confirmed what Carroll told them — that the attack left her with lingering, intrusive thoughts — it was Trump’s fingers that were doing the haunting.
Carroll, “began to squirm in her seat because she was actually re-experiencing Mr. Trump’s fingers inside of her, what she alleges to be Mr. Trump’s fingers inside of her,” Dr. Leslie Lebowitz. told jurors, describing one their interviews.
“You heard Ms. Carroll describe how incredibly painful that was,” Kaplan reminded them during summations on Monday.
“She remembers exactly how it felt.”