“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen. He lied and shattered my reputation. I’m here to try to get my life back.”
That was during the first few moments of E. Jean Carroll’s testimony today in her civil rape trial against Donald Trump. She took the stand shortly after 11 a.m. and was poised as she described the alleged assault, at times, imperfectly. This appeared to be a strategic move on her lawyers’ part: By grilling Carroll on why she couldn’t remember the exact date of the event, whether she screamed and said “no,” and repeatedly eliciting testimony in which she blamed herself, they were preemptively addressing Team Trump’s presumptive legal strategy.
“This question — the when, the when, the date — has just been something I’m constantly trying to pin down,” Carroll said.
The courtroom playbook for accused rapists almost always includes attacks on an accuser’s memory, on her motivation for coming forward (or for staying silent — you can’t win!), and on her overall mental state. Carroll attorney Michael Ferrara’s questions tackled this right away. Maybe Carroll didn’t remember every little thing that transpired, but the important points — how Trump allegedly goaded her into the dressing room, slammed her against the wall, tugged down her tights, and forced himself inside her — those details were clear. Those were the things that most certainly stuck with her.
The civil trial, in which Trump is accused of rape and defamation, began with jury selection yesterday. This morning, Trump described the case against him as a “made up SCAM.” Today, that jury of six men and three women looked on attentively, some scribbling notes, while Carroll described the fateful day when she said Trump sexually assaulted her.
She dropped by Bergdorf Goodman after she had wrapped filming her show for the day: “I was leaving the store. I was exiting.” He “put up his hand,” Carroll recalled, holding up her own: “It’s a universal sign for stop.”
“What did you do?” Ferrara asked. “I stopped,” she said.
“He said, ‘Hey, you’re that advice lady.’ I said ‘Hey, you’re that real-estate tycoon.’” Trump said he needed to buy something for a girl, she said, and “I was delighted. Here was Donald Trump asking me for advice to buy a present.” It was a “wonderful” prospect for a funny story.
They walked around the store, and Carroll suggested several things — a purse, a hat. “He had picked up a hat that was a fur hat, and he was petting it like a little cat or dog,” Carroll said. “And as he was petting it, he said, ‘I know — lingerie.’”
They traveled to the sixth floor. A lace bodysuit was on the counter of a display case. “He snatched it up and said, ‘Go put this on,’” Carroll said, lowering her voice to mimic the ex-president’s sometimes apish tone. Did she try it on? “No, I had no intention of putting this on.”
“I said, ‘You put it on,’” Carroll testified. “He held it up. He held it against me. ‘You’re in shape, you put it on.’” Carroll, who said their banter was jovial, wasn’t worried; the whole thing seemed light, fun. “He was having a good time, and so was I.”
“I sort of saw it as a Saturday Night Live sketch,” she recalled, saying that she had actually written a similar plot during her time as a writer on the show. “I was flirting the whole time, probably.” Trump led her to the dressing room, which was open; Carroll made it clear that Trump did not force her there. They went into the dressing room.
“That open door has plagued me for years because I just walked into it,” she said.
“He immediately shut the door and shoved me up on the wall,” Carroll said. He shoved her so roughly that her head hit the wall. She didn’t quite understand what was unfolding. “For a minute, I thought maybe it was a mistake,” she said.
“I pushed him back, and he threw me back against the wall again, banging my head again,” Carroll said. Did she scream? Yell for help? “I didn’t want to make a scene. I know that sounds strange. I didn’t want to make him angry at me.”
Trump put his shoulder against Carroll, pinning her to the wall. He leaned down and tugged down her tights. She was pushing him, and “it was quite clear” she didn’t want what he was doing. “His fingers went into my vagina, which was extremely painful — extremely painful. It was a horrible feeling because he curved — he put his hand inside of me and curved his fingers,” Carroll said.
“As I’m sitting here today, I can still feel it,” she said. He then forced himself inside her. Carroll described trying to break away.
“What did you do at that moment?”
“I,” Carroll began with a few false starts, taking a long pause. She lowered her voice and started to choke up. “You asked me what I did,” Carroll said. “I always think back to why I walked in there, to get myself into the situation. But I’m proud to say I did get out.”
But did she say “no”? “I had so much adrenaline pouring through me at the time. I can’t tell you if I said ‘no,’” she said.
Carroll, whose testimony continues this afternoon, also succinctly described the aftermath of Trump’s alleged attack. “I know people who have been through a lot worse than this,” she said. In her case, “it left me unable to ever have a romantic life again.”