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‘I’m here because Donald Trump raped me’: E. Jean Carroll tells jury she stepped forward to ‘get my life back’

E. Jean Carroll

Former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll arrives to federal court in New York, Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In her grueling first day of testimony, one-time advice columnist E. Jean Carroll cast off her public persona as the answer lady and emotionally bared all for jurors.

She spoke of her regrets, insecurities, and what she described as the biggest mistake of her life — entering into the dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman with a man who would become a U.S. president.

“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen,” Carroll began her testimony by declaring. “He lied and shattered my reputation, and I’m here to try to get my life back.”

Narrating the alleged sexual assault to the jury with graphic precision, Carroll said: “He pulled down my tights and his hand, his fingers went into my vagina, which was extremely painful.” She spared no details, telling jurors that Trump “curved” his fingers inside of her.

“As I’m sitting here today, I still feel it,” she said.

Asked what happened next, Carroll replied: “Then he inserted his penis.”

‘This is my moment’

Shortly after, Carroll cast her head down and her voice quaked as she described allegedly lifting up her knee and struggling to break free. It was only one of the times that Carroll fought back emotion. Her voice wavered when speaking about the alleged rape — and intrusive thoughts about it. Only once, Carroll appeared to lose a battle to maintain her composure, late in her first day of testimony.

Asked by her attorney whether she second-guessed her decision to step forward, Carroll testified: “I’ve regretted this 100 times.”

Then, she began to transition by saying “in the end,” and her testimony stopped for a lengthy pause. She began to cry, and her attorney asked her if she wanted to gather herself together. Instead, Carroll plunged ahead through her tears.

“Being able to get my day in court finally is everything to me,” she said. “So I’m happy.”

Carroll then snapped herself back into control.

“I’m going to get myself together here,” she said. “I’m in court. This is my moment. I’m not going to sit here and cry and waste everybody’s time.”

The remark was emblematic of Carroll’s testimony about the difference between her public and private personas.

Carroll told the jurors that the public knew her as the “Ask E. Jean” answer lady, a temperament she says was instilled in her Indiana upbringing in the post-World War II generation. The other persona, she testified, silently harbored a secret for decades and the trauma that went with it. Then, inspired by the #MeToo movement, she says, she broke her silence.

“You’re that advice lady”

Some four years ago, Carroll went public with allegations that Trump sexually assaulted her in a dressing room of a Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s. When New York Magazine published an excerpt from her book detailing those claims in 2019, Trump responded by telling reporters: “She’s not my type.”

Cutting through the subtext, Carroll said coolly that Trump had been implying she was “too ugly to attack, too ugly to rape.” (Trump would later mix Carroll up with his ex-wife Marla Maples during a deposition.)

Trump and Carroll

This photograph of Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll at a party was embedded in her complaint.

That remark, and others, sparked Carroll’s original defamation lawsuit. Carroll filed a separate lawsuit after New York passed the Adult Survivors Act, which allowed her to confront her allegations directly by suspending the statute of limitations. The trial currently taking place is on her second lawsuit.

Carroll told jurors there were many reasons she waited so long to step forward. Among them, she said, Trump had a chummy relationship with ex-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who was then president of the network America’s Talking, which hosted her show “Ask E. Jean.” She said her friend, local TV anchorwoman Carol Martin, warned her: “He has 200 lawyers. He will bury you.” Above all, however, she said, were her feelings of guilt and shame for having walked into it.

As Carroll told it, the fateful encounter began after Trump put up his hand as she was leaving the store. Imitating the gesture on the stand, she called that the “universal symbol” for her to stop.

“Hey, you’re that advice lady,” Trump said, according to Carroll.

Carroll said she replied: “Hey, you’re that real estate tycoon.”

Trump, she said, told her that he wanted her advice on a gift for a woman, and they went back into the store. She said that Trump looked at a see-through, gray body suit and asked her to try it on.

“You put it on,” Carroll says she responded. “It’s your color.”

‘I thought it was my fault’

She acknowledged that she found Trump attractive and said that she was flirting with him.

“I started looking on it as a Saturday Night Live sketch,” she said. “Donald Trump was being very light, very joshing and pleasant, and very funny.”

Carroll says that things took a darker turn when Trump led her into the dressing room. She acknowledged he didn’t force her into the room. She said she entered voluntarily. After that, she said, things took a dark turn as he pushed her against the wall and she hit her head. He then raped her, she claims.

Entering that dressing room, Carroll said, was the biggest mistake of her life, but she testified that the gravity of what occurred didn’t immediately dawn upon her. In fact, Carroll said, she said that she thought her friend, author Lisa Birnbach, would find the alleged encounter funny. She said that Birnbach instead told her: “He raped you, E. Jean. You should go to the police.”

Carroll said that she didn’t want to, fearing the personal and professional consequences, and later took her friend Martin’s advice instead.

Carol Martin and Lisa Birnbach

Carol Martin and Lisa Birnbach are expected to testify at Carroll v. Trump (Screenshots via YouTube; WCBS-TV and Brown University, respectively)

“I was ashamed,” Carroll said. “I thought it was my fault.”

Both women are now on her witness list.

During opening statements, Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina laid into what he described as the “absurdities” and “inconsistencies” of Carroll’s account, such as the seemingly out-of-place laughter and her inability to pin down a date of the alleged attack. Carroll’s testimony on Wednesday did not back away from any of those details. She still struggled on the witness stand to pin down the day, season or even year of the attack, searching for context clues. She said that she grappled with her memories and regrets about the decades-old encounter.

Tacopina is expected to try to pick them apart further when cross-examination begins on Thursday.

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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."