E. Jean Carroll arrived at Manhattan federal court on Tuesday morning with her head held high, walking into 200 Worth Street with the striking elegance that has long accompanied her pointed wit. It was the first day for the civil trial in her rape and defamation against Donald Trump. In a sandy overcoat and belted brown dress with black Wayfarers accenting the angles of her bobbed hair, the writer and journalist was greeted by supporters who shouted, “We believe E. Jean Carroll!” While there didn’t appear to be any Trump supporters outside court, it came as no surprise that Carroll would have security, not just because of the high-profile nature of these proceedings but also because of the defendant.
Trump is notorious for going on the attack against anyone who takes legal action against him. (Trump posted a photo of himself holding a bat alongside Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg.) These proceedings weren’t characterized by a sense of danger per se, but it was clear that Judge Lewis Kaplan recognized what could unfold if Trump went off in the way that Trump is wont to do. Before some four dozen prospective jurors were ushered in, Kaplan told both sides to “please refrain from making any statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest.” He wasn’t implying that anyone would do something to foment chaos but said he did want to mention this as a housekeeping matter “before we start the main event” in order to avoid potential trouble down the road.
The legal heavyweights packing Kaplan’s courtroom — my God, there are so many lawyers, also to be expected — will likely heed his admonition, as Kaplan does not mess around. At Carroll’s table was feminist lawyer Robbie Kaplan and a coterie of co-counsel. Among them was Crowley, who during her time as a federal prosecutor successfully prosecuted Chelsea bomber Ahmad Khan Rahimi — with the aid of a Price Is Right–style demonstration with a dumpster.
At the defense table was Trump’s thick-shouldered pit bull, Joe Tacopina, whose muscles appeared poised to tear through his suit jacket at any moment, like the Hulk as a lawyer. In addition, there was a bald man, a bespectacled man, a bearded man, and a buzz-cut man. All besuited. All men! Trump’s other leading attorney, Alina Habba, was not present.
When jury selection finally kicked off, Kaplan apprised potential jurors that they would be anonymous if selected. Neither he nor lawyers nor Carroll and Trump would know their identities. Their names would be kept in a vault. If they were picked, they would be protected going to and from court. They’d travel to a pickup point in the morning, from which U.S. Marshals would then drive them to court, secretly leading them into the building through a garage. While this happens with criminal cases sometimes, it’s virtually unheard of with civil matters. “This is all for your protection,” Kaplan said. “I would recommend to you, in fact, that you don’t use your real names with each other … the fewer people who know who you are, the better.”
While this sounded incredibly grave, jury selection took an expected but ultimately kooky turn as Kaplan asked jurors about any affiliations or opinions that could make them biased. Have they ever belonged to or considered themselves a supporter of QAnon, antifa, Jane’s Revenge, the Communist Party of the United States, or the Ku Klux Klan? Not a single one raised their hand.
Shortly before 2 p.m., a jury of six men and three women were selected. As the panel was finalized, Ed Sheeran was downstairs in the cafeteria. He was at court for his own lawsuit — this one accusing him of pilfering the musical structure of “Let’s Get It On.” Sheeran said he ate a meatball sandwich. He described the sub as “good.”
Carroll went public with her allegation in New York Magazine in 2019, in the wake of Me Too. As opening statements unfolded, one of Carroll’s attorneys, Shawn Crowley, provided jurors with a narrative of the accusations as well as the reasons why Carroll didn’t come forward for decades. Crowley also provided a framework for the evidence yet to come — Carroll told two friends about the alleged attack right away; her attorneys plan on calling on them as well as two other women who have accused Trump of sexual assault.
On the other side, Trump attorney Tacopina spent the beginning of his opening warning jurors not to succumb to partisanship — insisting Carroll’s case was brought “for political reasons and for status.”
The chronology established by Crowley dates back to early 1996. As Carroll was leaving Bergdorf Goodman one evening, she saw Trump entering. “Trump was famous in New York City,” Crowley said. “His name was on dozens of buildings,” and his face was often in the tabloids, Trump held up his hand to stop Carroll: “Hey, you’re that advice lady!” he allegedly said. “Hey, you’re that real-estate tycoon!” Carroll replied. Trump needed to buy a present for a woman. Could Carroll help him? “She agreed, thinking it would make for a funny story.”
As they traveled about the store, Carroll made several suggestions. Maybe Trump’s lady friend would like a hat? A purse? But they landed on the sixth floor. The lingerie department. There was a lacy bodysuit on the counter. He wanted her to try it on. “Try it on yourself!” Carroll allegedly responded, thinking he’d put it on. Trump ushered her into the dressing room.
“The moment she went inside, everything changed,” Crowley said. “Nothing was funny.” Trump forced his mouth against hers. “He held her arm, pulled down her tights — sexually assaulted her.” She struggled to break away from Trump, who had nearly 100 pounds on her. She couldn’t. He forced himself inside her. She finally managed to break free three minutes later, Crowley said.
Crowley showed jurors a slide of Trump’s notorious “grab them by the pussy” hot-mic recording. “This was not locker-room talk,” she said, referring to Trump’s initial defense of his statement. “It was exactly what he did to Ms. Carroll and other women.”
After Carroll went public, Trump responded to her claims from the White House, describing her as a liar. “He even said Ms. Carroll must be lying because, and I’m quoting, she ‘was not my type,’” Crowley said. “He was saying she was too ugly to assault.” Even when he left the White House, Trump didn’t let up — calling Carroll a “con job” and her account a “hoax” in 2022.
Tacopina insisted Carroll’s evidence was weak and implored jurors not to punish Trump because they didn’t like him. “People have very strong feelings about Donald Trump,” Tacopina said. “And it’s okay to feel however you feel. You can hate Donald Trump. It’s okay!” But there was a time and a place, he said, “to express those feelings.” That’s called a ballot box, during an election — “not here in a court of law.”
Tacopina pointed to Carroll’s uncertainty about the date — she’s said it happened either in 1995 or 1996 — and tried to cast doubt on her claim she thought he might try on flimsy lingerie over his suit. “It all comes down to: Do you believe the unbelievable?”
Tacopina argued that Carroll was egged on by anti-Trump Republican George Conway. And, despite her claims about defamation and threats, “her life was never better” after coming forward, Tacopina said.