MANHATTAN (CN) — A jury of New Yorkers found Donald Trump liable Tuesday in a stunning end to the former president's federal trial on civil claims that he raped writer E. Jean Carroll in 1996.
Carroll says she ran into Trump at Bergdorf Goodman in spring of 1996. The two recognized each other: Trump a real estate tycoon and tabloid figure, Carroll the author of a popular advice column in Elle magazine. Trump asked Carroll to help him pick out a gift for a woman, and the two made their way up the escalators. “I know: lingerie,” Carroll remembers Trump suggesting.
In the intimates department, Trump tossed her a sheer bodysuit and told her to try it on, Carroll says. She threw it back, joking that he ought to wear it, and the two made their way toward the fitting room. Carroll testified that Trump then pushed her against the wall, began aggressively kissing her, pulled down her tights and shoved his fingers, then his penis, inside her.
Carroll went public with her story in 2019 while Trump was still in office. She sued three years later, empowered by a new law in the Empire State that opened a small window for adult survivors of sexual assault to seek civil relief for claims otherwise barred by the statute of limitations. In addition to battery, she alleged defamation: pointing to Trump's denial of the allegations and ensuing digs at her appearance.
The jury found Trump liable on both counts, awarding Carroll $5 million in damages. Apart from Carroll's broad smile, neither she nor her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, made any comment as they exited the courthouse Tuesday afternoon. Later both released statements on the verdict.
“I filed this lawsuit against Donald Trump to clear my name and to get my life back. Today, the world finally knows the truth," Carroll wrote (emphasis in original). "This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed."
Kaplan meanwhile praised the verdict as well as Carroll, who she said "never wavered in her strength, courage, and determination to seek justice."
"For far too long, survivors of sexual assault faced a wall of doubt and intimidation," Kaplan wrote. "We hope and believe today’s verdict will be an important step in tearing that wall down."
Upon his courthouse exit, Joseph Tacopina, Trump's attorney, said he plans to appeal. Reporters asked if he had talked to his client.
"We've spoken, and we're ready to proceed and go forward," Tacopina said. "You know, he's firm in his belief, as many people are, that you cannot get a fair trial in New York City, based on the jury pool. And I think one could argue that that's probably an accurate assessment, based on what happened here today."
To determine the battery count, jurors had to find that it was more likely than not that Trump had either raped, sexually abused or forcibly touched Carroll. Defamation carried a higher bar: Rather than preponderance, Carroll was required to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Trump’s October 2022 comments on his social media platform Truth Social, denying the rape and calling her story a “complete con job,” were both false and made with actual malice.
Instructing the jury on Tuesday morning, less than three hours before they returned with a verdict, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan emphasized that the standard of reasonable doubt in criminal trials “does not apply at all in this case, and you should put it out of your mind.”
The jury ultimately found that Carroll did not prove Trump raped Carroll, the most severe possible element, but found that he sexually abused her, and awarded Carroll $2 million in compensatory damages plus $20,000 in punitive damages. On the defamation count, Trump will have to pay $1.7 million in damages for a reputation repair program plus $1 million in other damages. Carroll's expert testified that repairing damage to her name could cost up to $2.7 million.