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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Trump rape trial begins as jury hears two very different accounts

E. Jean Carroll, center, walks with her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, left, as they depart Federal District Court on the first day of her civil trial against former President Donald Trump in New York, April 25, 2023. On Tuesday, a jury began hearing E. Jean Carroll’s allegation that former President Donald J. Trump raped her more than two decades ago in a department store dressing room.

By Benjamin Weiser, Lola Fadulu and Kate Christobek

A lawyer for the writer E. Jean Carroll told a Manhattan jury earlier this week that former President Donald Trump viciously raped her client one evening nearly 30 years ago in a department store dressing room, an assault that she said Carroll, filled with fear and shame, long had kept secret.

“The whole attack lasted just a few minutes, but it would stay with her forever,” the lawyer, Shawn G. Crowley, said in an opening statement in a trial in U.S. District Court. She told the jury that the case is Carroll’s chance “to clear her name, to pursue justice and to get her life back.”

Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, followed with an aggressive attack on Carroll, contending that her account was untrue and accusing her of exploiting her story for personal gain.

“She became a celebrity and loved every minute of it,” Tacopina said.

The lawyers’ unreconcilable characterizations came on the first day of the trial in the lawsuit by Carroll against Trump, brought under a new law in New York that allows sexual assault victims to sue the people they say abused them, even if the statute of limitations has long expired.

The trial, expected to last one to two weeks, seeks to apply the accountability of the #MeToo era to a dominating political figure. It takes place amid a barrage of legal action aimed at Trump, who is running to regain the presidency and arguing that lawsuits and investigations that he faces are meant to drag him down.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to New York fraud charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star, and faces a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the state’s attorney general. He is the target of a criminal investigation in Georgia over attempted interference in the 2020 election. In addition, a federal special counsel is examining the discovery of sensitive documents at his residence, as well as his role in the events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol. He has denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

In Carroll’s case, her lawyers will ask the jury to find Trump liable for battery and defamation, and if he is found responsible, to award monetary damages.

Carroll, 79, a former magazine columnist, said nothing publicly about the encounter for decades before publishing a memoir in 2019 that accused Trump of attacking her.

In court on Tuesday, Crowley took the jury through a meticulous account of how Carroll’s chance encounter with Trump at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan began with humor and friendly teasing. She had met him once before and was leaving the store as he was arriving, and he asked her for help picking out a gift for a woman. She agreed, thinking it would make for a funny story, Crowley said.

They made their way up the escalator to the lingerie department on the sixth floor, which was unattended at that hour, Crowley said, adding that Trump eventually maneuvered Carroll into a dressing room and slammed her against a wall. “He pressed his lips against her,” Crowley said.

She said Trump then pulled down Carroll’s tights and sexually assaulted her. Carroll ultimately broke free and fled from the store.

Trump, 76, has denied that he raped Carroll, accusing her of lying and attacking her repeatedly in public statements and on social media, both while in office and after leaving.

In 2019, after she published her account, he called her allegation “totally false” and said he could not have raped her because she was not his “type.” Last October, he said again, in a post on Truth Social, that she was not telling the truth and that the case was a “complete con job.”

Carroll’s defamation claim is based on those October statements.

Crowley called Trump’s response to the allegations “swift and brutal.”

His lawyer, Tacopina, told the jury on Tuesday that Carroll was “advancing a false claim of rape for money, for political reasons and for status.”

Confronting the antipathy many feel for Trump, he added, “We all have to be treated the same way, even if you hate Donald Trump.”

As the judge, Lewis A. Kaplan, took the bench on Tuesday morning, Carroll was seated alongside her lawyers; Trump was not present at the table where his lawyers sat.

Kaplan told the parties advise their clients and witnesses to “please refrain from making any statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest.”

“Both parties are well aware of the publicity this case has attracted,” the judge said. He said he was not suggesting either party or their attorneys had “engaged in any misconduct with respect to this trial.” But he made it clear that he was especially focused on the “safety and privacy of the jurors in the case.”

The nine jurors selected for the trial come from Manhattan, Westchester County and the Bronx and work in a variety of industries and jobs. One works for the New York Public Library, another for a hospital and a third as a building janitor.

The jurors will remain anonymous throughout the trial, a decision the judge made in a ruling last month, saying it was “all for your protection.”

“The fewer people who know who you are, the better,” Kaplan told them Tuesday.

After opening statements concluded late Tuesday, Kaplan released the jury, with testimony expected to begin Wednesday.

He then turned to Tacopina and asked if he was correct in assuming that Trump would not be testifying, as Tacopina had said the defense intended to play portions of the former president’s video deposition.

Tacopina responded, “I am not sure, your honor.”

The judge said he had to have an answer this week, adding that the uncertainty was an imposition on court security and staff.

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