NEW YORK (AP) — At first, she thought helping Donald Trump shop for a women’s lingerie gift at a luxury department store would simply be “a funny New York thing.”
Even when, according to E. Jean Carroll, the then-businessman motioned her to a dressing room as they dared each other to try on a see-through bodysuit, she imagined something like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch she’d written.
But soon, “my whole reason for being alive in that moment was to get out of that room,” Carroll testified Wednesday in the trial of her rape lawsuit.
“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, and I’m here to try and get my life back,” Carroll told jurors.
As she took the stand to describe the alleged 1996 attack, Trump, from afar, repeated his insistence that Carroll’s claim is utter fiction. He wrote on his social media site that the case “is a made-up scam,” and more.
“This is a fraudulent & false story — Witch Hunt!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. His comments prompted the judge to warn Trump’s lawyers that he could bring more legal problems upon himself.
Trump hasn’t attended the trial thus far, but his lawyers said Tuesday he still could decide to testify.
The trial comes as Trump again seeks the Republican nomination for president, and weeks after he pleaded not guilty to unrelated criminal charges that involve payments made to silence a porn actor who said she had a sexual encounter with him.
Carroll, 79, testified that she crossed paths with Trump at the revolving door to Bergdorf Goodman on an unspecified Thursday evening in spring 1996. At the time, she was writing a long-running advice column in Elle magazine, having also written for “SNL.” Trump was a real estate magnate and social figure in New York.
She said he asked her advice about selecting a gift for a woman, and she was delighted to oblige. As an advice columnist, to have Trump ask for gift guidance “was a wonderful prospect,” and Carroll figured she would end up with a funny story, she said.
She testified that she suggested a hat, but he pivoted to lingerie, and soon they were bantering about the bodysuit. Amused and flirting with him, she went along, laughing even as he closed the door to the dressing room, perhaps even as he pushed her against a wall.
But then, she alleges, Trump stamped his mouth onto hers, yanked down her tights and shoved his hand and then his penis inside her while she struggled against him.
She said she finally kneed him off her, fled and, for years, blamed herself.
“I always think back to why I walked in there to get myself in that situation,” she said, her voice breaking.
Carroll said that for decades, she told no one except two friends because she was afraid Trump would retaliate, because she “thought it was my fault” and because she thought many people blame rape victims for what happened to them.
The alleged attack happened long before the #MeToo movement forced a reckoning with how sexual assault victims are treated by law enforcement and the public. Carroll has said #MeToo fueled her decision to come forward in a 2019 memoir and accompanying magazine excerpt.
Trump, 76, has said he wasn’t at the store with Carroll and had no clue who she was when she first aired the story publicly.
As court was about to begin Wednesday, Trump vented his feelings about the case on Truth Social.
Among his other remarks, he called Carroll’s lawyer “a political operative” and alluded to a DNA issue that Judge Lewis A. Kaplan has ruled can’t be part of the case.
Lawyers for Carroll — whose suit includes claims that Trump previously defamed her by publicly calling her case a “hoax,” “scam,” “lie” and “complete con job” — mentioned his new statement to Kaplan.
He wasn’t pleased, saying that Trump appeared to be addressing his supporters and the jury “about stuff that has no business being spoken about.” Kaplan called Trump’s post “a public statement that, on the face of it, seems entirely inappropriate.”
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina noted that jurors are told not to follow any news or online commentary about the case. But he said he would ask Trump “to refrain from any further posts about this case.”
“I hope you’re more successful,” Kaplan said, adding that Trump “may or may not be tampering with a new source of potential liability.”
Carroll’s federal lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a retraction of his allegedly defamatory comments.
Carroll, who was married and divorced twice before her alleged encounter with Trump, said she’s since been unable even “to show a man that I liked him.”
While mostly matter-of-fact during her testimony, she teared up and wiped her eyes with a tissue as she described the gulf between her “invincible” public persona and a private self who “can’t admit out loud that there’s been any suffering.”
The suit was filed under a New York law that temporarily lets decades-old sexual abuse claims go to civil court. She never pursued criminal charges, although she advised her own readers to tell police and get therapy if they had been sexually assaulted.
Trump’s lawyer has asserted that Carroll sued to get money and try to punish Trump politically. Carroll, a registered Democrat, testified that she voted for his Democratic opponents in 2016 and 2020 but said that has nothing to do with her lawsuit.
“I’m not settling a political score at all. I’m settling a personal score,” she said.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll has done.