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E. Jean Carroll’s grilling by Trump’s attorney got testy straight from the words ‘Good morning’

E Jean Carroll and Donald Trump

E Jean Carroll and Donald Trump (l-r: AP Photos by Seth Wenig and Evan Vucci)

Author E. Jean Carroll had little patience for pleasantries with former President Donald Trump’s lawyer. Instead, the one-time advice columnist quickly steeled herself for rhetorical battle on cross-examination on Thursday.

Trump’s pugnacious attorney Joseph Tacopina stepped to the podium with a throwaway greeting: “Good morning, Ms. Carroll.”

Silence followed, and Tacopina tried again.

“Good morning, Ms. Carroll,” he said, somewhat louder.

After a brief pause, Carroll replied, unconvincingly: “Good morning.”

It only got more testy from there, with Tacopina — a celebrity defense attorney also representing Trump in his criminal case — trying to depict Carroll as a duplicitous, fame-hungry and financially motivated fabulist. Carroll parried his barbed questions, sometimes cuttingly or with literary flair.

Carroll readily agreed when Tacopina told her she conceded parts of her account may sound “odd.”

Pressed by Tacopina about Trump “supposedly” raping her, Carroll pounced: “Not ‘supposedly,’ I was raped.”

“That’s your version,” Tacopina said.

“Those are the facts,” Carroll replied.

Joe Tacopina

In this March 17, 2011 file photo, attorney Joseph Tacopina speaks to the media outside Superior Court in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

For a day and a half, Carroll shared her account of Trump allegedly raping her in the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman, likely in the spring of 1996. Carroll acknowledged that, some two decades later, her memory was hazy on some of the details, but she recalled that it began with friendly banter outside the store. Trump, she said, was looking for a gift for a woman, and Carroll said that she thought joining him would provide grist for her as an advice columnist.

Carroll said Trump settled on a skimpy, see-through body suit, and they jokingly argued about who would try it on. She says that, in the worst mistake of her life, she followed him into the dressing room, where Trump allegedly raped her. Some graphic details, she says, are seared into her memory. Trump, she said, painfully “curved” his fingers inside her and forced his penis into her in an alleged sexual assault.

Testifying that fear and shame motivated her to stay silent for decades, Carroll told jurors that she told only two people at the time: first, author Lisa Birnbach and then, TV anchorwoman Carol Martin. Both are now on Carroll’s witness list.

Tacopina’s task is not to discredit only Carroll, but all three women, who he claims to have been in on a plot to bring down the then-president.

He offered as an exhibit an exchange between Carroll and Martin from 2017.

“As soon as we’re both well enuf to scheme, we must both do our patriotic duty,” Martin remarked cryptically.

“TOTALLY!!! I have something special for you when we meet,” Carroll responded.

On direct examination, Carroll said that she didn’t know what “scheme” her friend was talking about. Tacopina pressed her about it on cross-examination, and Carroll said that’s just the type of colorful language two women in the arts and letters used.

As he did in opening statements, Tacopina drew attention to the murky timeline of Carroll’s account. She says she arrived at her rough estimate because Birnbach wrote an account of her visit to Mar-a-Lago in February 2016. Birnbach wouldn’t have done that if Carroll had told her about the alleged rape by then, Carroll said.

“I wish to heaven we could give you a date,” Carroll emphasized, extending the “wish” as if it had two syllables. “I wish that we could give you a date.”

Tacopina suggested that Carroll stepped forward only when she wanted to sell a book: “Why Do We Need Men? A Modest Proposal.” Carroll said that the timeline was more consistent with a different event, the bombshell New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein.

“And when that happened, across the country, women started telling their stories, and I was flummoxed,” Carroll said. “Wait a minute: Can you actually speak up and not be pummeled?”

That’s when, according to Carroll: “A light dawned.”

“I thought we could actually change things if we all — if we all — tell our stories,” Carroll said.

Tacopina said there was a difference: Weinstein’s accusers reported him criminally. The lawyer asked Carroll where the disgraced producer currently lived. Carroll’s attorneys objected, and it was sustained. When Tacopina asked whether Weinstein was in jail, another objection followed. It was sustained, too.


Former film producer Harvey Weinstein appears in court at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles, California, on Oct. 4, 2022. (Photo by ETIENNE LAURENT/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

After the lunch recess, Tacopina went into the details of Trump’s alleged rape. He punctuated every question with incredulity. Carroll answered why she asked Trump to try on the lingerie, explaining the comedy behind having the more than 200-lb. man don a see-through teddy.

“Donald Trump being a large, tall very manly man, makes it twice as funny,” she said.

Turning philosophical, Carroll — a former writer for Saturday Night Live, mused: “That’s how comedy is born. You take two opposite things, put them together, and it makes a new scene.”

Though she described the dressing room scene as a “battle,” Tacopina noted, Carroll said she was laughing. Carroll replied that is a woman’s common defense mechanism.

“Laughing is a very good, I’d like to use the word ‘weapon,’ to calm a man down if he has any erotic intention,” she said.

What Carroll did not do, Tacopina never hesitated to remind her, was scream.

Carroll has said repeatedly, “I’m not a screamer,” but as Tacopina pressed the matter, her frustration grew more palpable.

“You can’t beat up on me for not screaming,” Carroll snapped.

Tacopina insisted he wasn’t beating her up, just asking questions, but Carroll responded that is the same question that stops numerous rape survivors from stepping forward.

As Tacopina continued, Carroll exploded, “I’m telling you,” raising her voice again: “He raped me, whether I screamed or not!”

Almost at a yell, the remark was Carroll’s loudest of her two-day stint on the witness stand.

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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."