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Donald Trump’s lawyer suggests E. Jean Carroll’s rape claims echo ‘Law & Order SVU’ plot point

Carroll Trump 5-1

E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump (Photos left to right: AP Photo/John Minchillo and Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

Floating a new defense in E. Jean Carroll’s rape case, former President Donald Trump’s attorney suggested on Monday that the writer’s allegations echo a plot point from an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina confronted Carroll about those similarities during Carroll’s second day of cross-examination.

During one particularly sharp exchange, Tacopina said Carroll must have known about the details of the episode because of an emailed message from a reader.

‘An astonishing coincidence’

That email exchange, submitted into evidence, alerted Carroll to a 2012 episode of the long-running series — titled “Theater Tricks — in which a character shares a fantasy about rape role-play in the lingerie section of a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.

“I haven’t seen it, but this happens all the time with ‘Law & Order’ stories,” Carroll responded to the reader. “Also, there are 200 scripted shows a year on TV. This kind of thing is bound to show up. Indeed, I’m surprised this sort of plot is not seen more often.”

When asked whether her response showed she’s a fan of the show, Carroll conceded that’s true of “Law & Order” in general — but not the “Special Victims Unit” series of episodes, which she called too violent.

There are key differences between the “Law & Order” episode in question and Carroll’s rape allegations. The episode centered around a rape in a movie theater, and one of the characters in the episode spoke about his fantasy role-play. In one of those fantasies, the character barged into a dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman, where a woman was trying on lingerie, and raped her.

Carroll claims that in the spring of 1996, she had been helping Trump look for a gift for a woman when he picked up a see-through body suit. She says that they joked with each other about who should try it on, and that she followed him into the dressing room to continue the bit. When she got inside, Carroll alleges, Trump shut the door and sexually assaulted her.

The story lines seemingly share little in common, save for one key detail: the setting.

“That was amazing to me,” Carroll said.

“What do you mean amazing?” Tacopina pressed. “I assume amazing coincidence?”

“Yes,” Carroll replied. “Astonishing.”

Tacopina prepared an incredulous reply, before being interrupted.

“So five years before you came out with your story, an astonishing coincidence that ‘Law & Order,'” the attorney began, as an objection rang out from the plaintiff’s table.

Senior U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan sustained the objection, and the questioning moved on from there.

Tacopina is hardly the first person to publicly note the similarities. The comparison went viral on Twitter and was even flagged by the conspiracy website InfoWars, one fact-checking website noted.

Contrasts between art and life pervaded Carroll’s stint on the witness stand.

Earlier in the day, Carroll noted that she remained a “MASSIVE” fan of “The Apprentice,” a show hosted by her alleged rapist.

“I had never seen such a witty competition on television,” Carroll said.

"Celebrity Apprentice" Red Carpet Event

TV personality Donald Trump attends a “Celebrity Apprentice” red carpet event at Trump Tower on Feb. 3, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Carroll depicted her self-image as a confident, swashbuckling advice columnist as itself a type of performance. Tacopina dedicated a significant portion of his second day of questioning to Carroll’s media appearances, showing a lengthy portion of her television interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and multiple podcasts. Cooper abruptly cut to commercial break when Carroll suggested that she believes that many people perceive rape to be sexy.

In her direct and cross-examinations, Carroll said that she was referring to the pop-cultural image cultivated in shows like “Game of Thrones” and movies like “The Fountainhead.”

Sharply questioning those propositions, Tacopina asked: “You are comparing television rape scenes and real-life rape scenes?”

“No, I’m not,” she said, adding that she believes rape is one of the worst things that could happen to a woman or a man.

On the “Cheering for Democracy” podcast, Carroll celebrated her financial success, adding she gained enough subscribers to her Substack newsletter to go independent.

“So long, ‘Elle!'” Carroll could be heard exclaiming, referring to the longtime publisher of her magazine column.

‘I put up a front’

It wasn’t the only time Tacopina used a podcast interview against Carroll, who said that she never had sex again after her alleged rape. Carroll previously testified that was because Trump raped her, but Tacopina said that she said something different in an interview.

“I think it wasn’t because of him,” Carroll said in a different podcast clip, adding that she thinks it was because another man never made her “desirous.”

Throughout her testimony, Carroll contrasted to what she described her private and public personas. The public persona, she said, reflexively responds to any question about how she is doing with: “I’m fabulous.”

“I always say I’m fine,” she mused. “I put up a front.”

E. Jean Carroll

While a protester holds up signs, E. Jean Carroll arrives to federal court in New York, Thursday, April 27, 2023. Carroll began testifying Wednesday in the trial of her federal lawsuit. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Pressing her on that point, Tacopina asked: “You always say that you’re ‘fabulous’ now?”

“Of course, I do,” Carroll replied. “I don’t want anyone to know that I suffer.”

As an advice columnist, Carroll cultivated an image as a female Hunter S. Thompson, a gonzo journalist who would recount her exploits and adventures with her readers. She once rafted naked down a river with a group of woman and drew praise from Candace Bushnell of “Sex and the City” fame for her “daring.”

Her humor, she acknowledged at one point, tended toward the “dark,” and Tacopina confronted her on one of the edgy jokes she posted about Trump on Facebook.

In a post on Aug. 6, 2012, Carroll wrote: “Would you have sex with Donald Trump for $17,000? (Even if you could A) give the money to Charity? B) Close your eyes? And he’s not allowed to speak).”

Later in the day, Carroll conceded that she has a “dark” brand of comedy, and she made clear during her testimony that it was intended as a joke.

“I might have a dark comic view of what occurred, but that’s my way of dealing with it,” she told her attorney Michael Ferrara on redirect. “That’s my way of lifting my spirits.”

Tacopina pointedly flagged another contrast with the Carroll familiar to her TV viewers and the one the one on the witness stand. Carroll fought back tears and even cried — in one fleeting moment — when recounting her alleged rape and her decision to step forward.

When asked whether that happened during any of her media appearances, Carroll acknowledged, “I don’t believe it did, no.”

Carroll remained cool and detached during the remainder of her cross-examination, but she displayed emotion one more time before the end of the day.

When her attorney Michael Ferrara took over questioning on redirect, Carroll’s voice cracked when asked a series of questions about telling people she was feeling “fabulous.”

“That’s the goal of all of us in this courtroom: to find a little bit of happiness,” Carroll said.

Carroll’s testimony that followed was punctuated by pregnant pauses to collect herself.

“Instead of living with the feeling that I caused this horrible thing to happen, by,” she said, stopping mid-sentence for a protracted period of time, “telling my story, I started to take a little bit of control.”

“And it’s been a long way,” Carroll continued. “And this is, a very, satisfying moment for me to be here to answer your questions.”

After three days of contentious examination, Carroll’s stint on the witness stand finally concluded. She previously testified that she told two friends about her alleged rape: author Lisa Birnbach and TV anchor Carol Martin. Both are on her witness list and are expected to testify in upcoming days.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."