court appearances

It’s the Jury’s Turn in the Donald Trump Rape Trial

E. Jean Carroll today in court. Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

As E. Jean Carroll’s civil rape and defamation trial against Donald Trump neared its end Monday, her lead attorney, Roberta Kaplan, largely focused on two powerful motifs: that Trump thought himself better than everyone else and that he’s tried to hide a predatory M.O. by peddling defamatory lies.

“In this country, even the most powerful person can be held accountable in court,” Kaplan said. “No one, not even a former president, is above the law.”

“Did any of you happen to notice, though, what Trump said about that?” Kaplan said, referring to Trump’s Truth Social post, where he said the U.S.’s legal system was a “disgrace” because of Carroll’s lawsuit. “In that post, he actually insulted the justice system.”

“You only saw him on video,” Kaplan said slightly later. “He didn’t even bother to show up here in person.”

Trump threatened last week to “confront” Carroll in court, but his lawyers never filed a request for him to appear, despite having days to do so. His team rested without calling a single witness; Trump only appeared in his recorded deposition.

To show Trump’s alleged “playbook,” Kaplan compared how each accuser who testified — Carroll, Jessica Leeds, and Natasha Stoynoff — described similar circumstances surrounding his alleged misconduct toward them.

Carroll said that she and Trump spoke casually while walking around Bergdorf Goodman until he led her into a dressing room and raped her. Leeds alleged that during a flight in the late 1970s, Trump groped her unexpectedly. Stoynoff told jurors that Trump, whom she was interviewing for People magazine in 2005, led her into a room at Mar-a–Lago and then forcibly kissed her.

“He makes friendly chit chat with a woman,” Kaplan said. “He suddenly lunges at her. He pounces, he kisses, he grabs, he doesn’t wait — and if a woman later speaks up, he lies about it, he insults her, he demeans her, he says she is too ugly to assault.”

“He didn’t wait. He grabbed her, using his own words, ‘by the pussy,’” Kaplan said of Trump’s alleged assault against Carroll.

Kaplan also attacked Trump’s attractiveness defense — he’s repeatedly said his accusers are “not my type” — by noting how he mistook Carroll for his second ex-wife, Marla Maples, while shown a photo of her during a deposition.  “Mr. Trump pointed to Ms. Carroll, the woman he supposedly said was not his ‘type.’ She was exactly his type,” Kaplan said.

Trump’s lead attorney, Joe Tacopina, countered that Carroll’s allegation was a money-driven lie. The gist: Carroll wanted to cash in on her book and, what better way than accusing an unpopular ex-president of rape?

“We are going to take a journey to justice,” Tacopina told jurors, reiterating a point from openings about how his client needed to be treated fairly.

“People have very strong feelings about Donald Trump, one way or the other,” he said — and court isn’t the right place to litigate one’s feelings on Trump. “There’s a time and a secret place to do that, it’s called a ballot box.”

“What E. Jean Carroll has done here is an affront to justice,” Tacopina said. “She’s minimized real rape victims. She’s exploited their pain and suffering — we cannot let her profit to the tune of millions of dollars for her efforts to deceive you.”

As for why Trump wasn’t at trial, Tacopina presented what could have been on the syllabus in a philosophy of mind class. “We’re not arguing consent,” he said: “we’re saying it did not happen.” Later, he asked: “How do you prove a negative?”

A person could say they didn’t do something. But how could one call witnesses to support that something didn’t happen — especially when there wasn’t an exact date?

“That’s why our defense came out through cross,” Tacopina said, and continued: “What could I have asked Donald Trump in court that he wasn’t asked in a day-long deposition?”

At numerous points during his summation, Tacopina would gesture and point and sometimes whack the lectern with open palms to emphasize a point. In total, both sides’ closings ran around five hours; at some points, at least one juror could be seen nodding off during each attorney’s presentation.

An elephant in the room during closings, however, appears to be both camps’ concern about class. Carroll was down to earth and vulnerable during the trial. But anyone could choose to read her poise (and her chosen profession and impeccable dress) solely through the lens of privilege discourse and, in doing so, feel like she’s less trustworthy or deserving of empathy.

Trump, of course, is a bloviating, self-professed billionaire and ex-president who was M.I.A. while jurors were stuck inside, listening to a case about him. So, Kaplan and Tacopina sprinkled little bits of everywoman and everyman in their arguments.

“The Plaintiff in our case, E. Jean Carroll is truly one of a kind,” Kaplan told jurors at the beginning of her opening. “Having grown up in Indiana, she pulled herself up by her own bootstraps and achieved amazing success as a journalist and advice columnist in New York City.”

Kaplan also discussed how an expert psychological witness described Carroll becoming emotionally closed to companionship and intimacy after the alleged attack.  “It’s like a metal gate being pulled down in front of a bodega in New York City,” Kaplan said.

Tacopina, for his part, took issue with Cheryl Beall, a former Bergdorf’s manager who was called by Carroll. Beall seemed irked by the fact that employees would leave changing room doors unlocked; Tacopina cast this as her being frustrated toward subordinates whom she considered lowly.

“I come from regular stock, ladies and gentleman, and I prefer it that way — and that offends me,” Tacopina said. “Sorry, Ms. Beall — I’m not as erudite.”

This thread felt odd, considering: Both sides kept urging jurors to use their common sense. If jurors do use their common sense, surely they’d see this rhetoric as transparent, if not a bit schlocky?

On Tuesday morning, Judge Lewis Kaplan will give the jury their instructions. Then, they will start deliberating.

Donald Trump Rests Without a Witness.