A New York jury quickly reached the conclusion on Tuesday that Donald Trump sexually abused the journalist E. Jean Carroll, pummeling him with a $5 million punishment for forcing himself on her—and defaming her for years.
Ending a two-week civil trial in federal court, a nine-panel jury of New Yorkers concluded that the real estate mogul did, in fact, violently attack magazine journalist E. Jean Carroll in 1996—pinning her against a wall while she stood inside the fitting room at a high-end Manhattan clothing store Bergdorf Goodman.
But they also couldn’t reach a liable conclusion that what he did could be classified as rape. Instead, they determined that whatever he did in that dressing room was nonconsensual sexual abuse—made all the worse by the way he caused damage to Carroll’s reputation when he resorted to chauvinist remarks and denied the attack ever happened. But they spared him the worst punishment of branding him as a rapist.
The six men and three women reached their verdict after just three hours of deliberation, having heard Carroll put on a case based entirely on her memory—and that of two close friends she confided in afterward who were sworn to silence for nearly three decades.
By contrast, Trump did not care to even show up in court, opting instead to go golfing in Ireland and Scotland and post scornful diatribes from his social media account that angered the judge. On the same day the jury began to deliberate on Tuesday, Trump happily announced he was preparing for his exclusive CNN town hall in New Hampshire. And his legal team did not present a case whatsoever, adopting a strategy of merely poking holes in Carroll’s story.
The jury awarded Carroll $2 million in damages for being battered by Trump, with an additional $20,000 punishment to Trump for disregarding her rights. They awarded her an additional $1 million for the damage he caused to her reputation by calling her a liar, plus another $1.7 million meant to pay for the cost of repairing it. They slapped Trump with a separate $280,000 punishment for the malice and hatred in his denials.
The trial in New York City marked a pinnacle for the “Me Too” movement’s national reckoning, as victims continue to expose the powerful people who exploited their influence and wealth to prey on others and satisfy sexual cravings. But it also marked a defeat of sorts, after the jury refused to condemn Trump as a rapist.
At times in the courtroom, “Me Too” itself was on trial. Trump’s lawyers tried to screen out potential jurors based on their feelings about the campaign for accountability, hoping to ask them if “Me Too” had “gone too far.”
Their manner of questioning witnesses relied heavily on tired, brutish inquiries about whether or not Carroll screamed during the attack—or why she didn’t file a police report at the time. And the judge overseeing the case kept them from engaging in a plan to probe would-be jurors by drawing parallels to the gruesome sexual misconduct allegations against Trump’s own Supreme Court pick, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
There’s also a direct line between the start of the “Me Too” movement and Carroll herself. The dam that burst six years ago, flooding American society with long-buried sexual harassment claims, began with a startling New York Times investigation on the predatory actions of disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017. On the witness stand, Carroll testified it was that very article that inspired her to revisit haunting memories of her encounter with Trump—and ultimately decide to go public about it in her book two years later.
When Weinstein was convicted in 2020, then-President Trump said the verdict was a “great victory” for women that sent a “very strong message.” On Tuesday, Trump promptly took to Truth Social to continue defaming Carroll. He posted that he had “ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO THIS WOMAN IS.”
“THIS VERDICT IS A DISGRACE – A CONTINUATION OF THE GREATEST WITCH HUNT OF ALL TIME!” he wrote.
Trump’s team also put out a lengthy statement from a spokesperson about the decision, vowing to appeal.
Carroll, meanwhile, issued a statement Tuesday night saying she filed the lawsuit against Trump to “clear my name and to get my life back.”
“Today, the world finally knows the truth. This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed,” she said. “I would like to express my deep and lasting gratitude to all those who have stood by me from the start, especially my incredible and fearless legal team, led by Robbie Kaplan, who never, ever backed down in pursuit of truth and justice.”
This legal battle is actually the second iteration of Carroll’s attempt to hold Trump accountable. When New York magazine published an excerpt of her book in June 2019, he told The Hill, “I’ll say it with great respect. Number one, she’s not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, OK?” She sued him for defamation, but Trump used the gargantuan power of the Department of Justice to slow it down while he was in office—and even after.
But after Carroll and others pushed New York to adopt the Adult Survivors Act—creating a one-year lookback window that briefly extended the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims—she tried again. Except this time, she sued for battery and defamation over the way he put out an Oct. 2022 statement calling her “Ms. Bergdorf Goodman” and deriding her case as “a complete con job.”
The Manhattan federal trial began on April 25, and within days Carroll was on the stand explaining the damage Trump’s recent statement caused.
“I was back on my feet… then boom! He knocked me back down again,” Carroll said.
Her testimony reached an emotional denouement when she pushed back on the aggressive questioning from Trump’s lead defense lawyer, Joe Tacopina.
“I’m telling you, he raped me whether I screamed or not!” she blared in tears.
Trump’s legal team spent days trying to tear Carroll’s story apart, with unrelenting questions about how Bergdorf Goodman could possibly be empty during the encounter, how she could keep quiet for so long, and the uncanny similarity of her story to a 2012 episode of Law & Order: SVU.
Two former Bergdorf Goodman managers conceded that fitting rooms are normally kept locked and sales attendants pay copious attention to visiting “clients,” but they also acknowledged that the store can be quite empty when it stays open later than usual on Thursday evenings.
Carroll’s friends bolstered her account and subsequent silence, with fellow journalist Lisa Birnbach testifying that she only showed up in court “because my good friend, who is a good person, told me something terrible happened to her… and I want the world to know she was telling the truth.” The jury also saw the private messages of Carol Martin, the trailblazing Black local TV anchor for CBS’s New York station in the 1980s, who lamented the way Carroll’s lawsuit took over her friend’s life—and regretted telling Carroll to keep quiet out of fear that Trump would ruin her.
But Carroll’s team, led by attorney Roberta Kaplan, strengthened its case by featuring the vital testimony of two women who said they too had been sexually assaulted by Trump: Jessica Leeds, the saleswoman on a 1978 flight who said “it was like he had 40 zillion hands,” and former People magazine journalist Natasha Stoynoff who recalled how “he pushes me against the wall and starts kissing me, holding me against the wall.”
The most damning evidence of all came from Trump’s own mouth, as jurors watched the infamous Access Hollywood tape where he brags about his ability to abuse his celebrity power to sexually assault women, because you can “grab ’em by the pussy.”
Kaplan relied on the expertise of a psychologist, who in court testified that “memory is actually a complicated process” to explain Carroll’s startling ability to remember vivid details about the encounter while completely forgetting what season, year, or even day of the week it happened.
But the most startling gap in the trial wasn’t Carroll’s spotty memory—it was the missing defendant. His appearance in a six-month-old videotape somehow made his absence worse.
Trump’s previously taped deposition, which was shown to jurors in court, had the energy of a careening jet engulfed in flames. He described Carroll as “a whackjob… sick, mentally sick.” He defended his “grab ’em by the pussy” comment as “locker room talk,” and volunteered his jaw-dropping view that stars do indeed get away with it, “unfortunately—or fortunately.”
Trump stood by his sexual misconduct defense that certain accusers aren’t his “type,” going so far as taking an unprompted jab at Carroll’s lead lawyer by saying, “You wouldn’t be a choice of mine either.” And he single-handedly eliminated the ability to put the defamation blame on anyone else, proudly copping to the fact that he “wrote it all myself.”
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is not related to Carroll’s lawyer, concluded the trial by thanking the jurors.
“You did what we asked you to do, and you did it conscientiously,” he told them.
But then his tone turned sober when he advised them not to publicly identify themselves.
“Not now, and not for a long time,” Kaplan said.