In the end, a Manhattan jury decided former president Donald Trump did to E. Jean Carroll what he boasted about doing to women, generally. He grabbed them wherever and whenever he wanted, because he’s a star.
The jury did not find Trump liable for rape, which was one of Carroll’s accusations. But six men and three women did find him liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll, and awarded her $5 million in damages. This verdict puts a former president who is once again campaigning for that job in unprecedented political territory. But it also seems remarkable for another reason: A 79-year-old woman, derided by her famous attacker as not his type, was able to convince a jury she was sexually assaulted by him more than 30 years ago. How often does that happen?
Luckily for Carroll, she had a star witness on her side: the defendant, Trump.
Although he never stepped foot in the courtroom, his arrogance and contempt for women in general, and for Carroll, specifically, permeated the trial. Add to that his own damning speech — first, what he said in the “Access Hollywood” video about being a star who could grab women’s genitals at will, and then, what he said in a deposition video. Asked by Carroll’s lawyer whether he stood by his “you can do anything” “Access Hollywood” remarks, Trump said, “Historically, that’s true with stars. If you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always, but largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately.” Asked if he’s a star, he said, “I think you can say that, yeah.”
A less ego-crazed defendant — one with more respect for the judicial system and more fear of its consequences — would have walked away from that sexually predatory description of male entitlement. Not Trump. He doubled down. In the deposition, he also called Carroll a “nut job” and “mentally sick.” Last October, Trump had called her case “a complete con job” and “a Hoax and a lie” on his Truth Social platform.
Trump’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina, didn’t help his client’s cause with his demeaning, retro view of how rape victims are supposed to behave, best illustrated by his pressuring of Carroll on why she didn’t scream during the assault she said took place in a department store dressing room. “You can’t beat up on me for not screaming,” Carroll told him. One of the reasons women don’t come forward, she said, “is because they are always asked, ‘Why didn’t you scream?’ ” That exchange took on a life of its own outside the courtroom, since it so perfectly capsulized how women are historically put on trial when they accuse a man of sexual assault.
The mistakes made by Trump and his lawyer do not diminish the strength and resolve shown by Carroll. She handled the insults with dignity and responded to Tacopina’s efforts to undercut her credibility with calm determination. Two friends — journalist Lisa Birnbach and Carol Martin, a former TV anchor — also testified that she had told them about the attack soon afterward. Two other women also testified about similar assaults they said that Trump initiated.
Carroll could not recall exactly when the attack occurred. But in the end, that didn’t matter. The details she recalled — Trump shutting the dressing room door, shoving her against the wall, then pulling down her tights and assaulting her with his fingers and, she said, with his penis — were not only vivid, they echoed his own “Access Hollywood” description of how he went about his predatory business: “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. ... You can do anything.”
What are the political consequences for Trump? He has already been indicted on 34 felony counts in connection with charges that he paid off a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair and then falsified company records to cover it up. Meanwhile, he faces a host of other criminal and civil threats. But so far, his legal problems matter not at all to his faithful supporters. He leads the Republican field of presidential candidates and, according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll, would also beat President Biden.
As for Trump’s reaction to the verdict — if the jury had sided with him, he would have celebrated his exoneration. Instead, he denounced the finding as “the greatest witch hunt of all time.” That is classic Trump. In 2020, he believed the vote count was legitimate if it ended in his favor and rigged if it did not.
But this time, there’s no Dominion Voting Systems to falsely blame. Trump has only himself to blame, not that he ever will.