Abcarian: Trump sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll. There's still no denying it

E. Jean Carroll <span class="copyright">(Ward Sutton / For The Times)</span>
E. Jean Carroll (Ward Sutton / For The Times)

Update E. Jean Carroll decisively won a civil battery and defamation case against Donald Trump, as Robin Abcarian explains in this column from May 9. Carroll had earlier filed a separate defamation lawsuit against the former president. That case is pending. On Monday, Carroll asked to add to it his comments about her since the verdict in the civil battery case. On CNN the night after the verdict and on Truth Social, he called her, among other things, a “whack job” and said her story was “fake.”

Well, well, well.

The Manhattan civil jury that found Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll moved on the former president like — well, as he would say — "a bitch," finding against him after less than three hours of deliberation Tuesday.

Trump had not raped Carroll, the federal jury decided, but the assault was real, and he had injured her, acted with malice when he called her a liar, and damaged her reputation in the process. The jury has ordered Trump to pay Carroll about $5 million.

We can take a couple of lessons from Carroll's victory and Trump’s defeat.

First, obituaries for the #MeToo movement and the positive cultural changes it has wrought are premature. The jury may not have assigned to Trump the technical crime of rape, but it believed Carroll when she testified that he pushed her against a dressing room wall, pulled down her pantyhose and thrust his fingers into her.

Second, it turns out that narcissism can be its own punishment.

In a deposition taken last year, a surly Trump, who wore face makeup that was an even harsher shade of orange than usual, virtually sealed his own legal fate.

In a videotape shown to the jury, he accused Carroll’s attorney of being “a political operative” and “a disgrace” and, his favorite insult, “not my type.”

Roberta Kaplan took it all in stride, asking whether he really believed — as he boasted to Billy Bush in 2005 — that stars can grab women’s genitals? Remember, when that tape became public during his first presidential campaign, he first claimed never to have said such a thing, then claimed he was indulging in “locker room talk.”

Apparently, he was telling the truth all along.

“Historically,” Trump replied, “that’s true with stars. If you look over the last million years, that’s largely true, unfortunately — or fortunately.” (Fortunately?)

Then Kaplan asked whether Trump considered himself a star.

“Yeah,” he replied.

It was pretty obvious to anyone keeping track that what Trump did to Carroll was pretty much what he said he did to women whenever he felt like it. And his claim that Carroll was not his type was blatantly disproved when he misidentified a photo of her as his ex-wife Marla Maples.

There's a poetic justice to Trump’s own vile words coming back to haunt him.

And something extremely reassuring about the fact that the New York law meant to provide redress to victims of long-ago sexual assaults accomplished exactly that.

There was no eyewitness — when is there ever an eyewitness in a sexual assault case? — but Carroll’s attorney was able to call 10 witnesses, two of whom testified that she told them contemporaneously of the traumatic event, and two of whom testified that Trump had sexually assaulted them too, using a similar MO.

Thanks to New York’s Adult Survivors Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations on sexual assault, Carroll was able to accuse Trump in court of raping her in the dressing room of the upscale Manhattan specialty store Bergdorf Goodman on what she thinks was a Thursday evening in the spring of 1996.

Trump’s attorney tried to exploit her lack of certainty about the date of the assault. How can a man provide an alibi if he doesn’t even know what day he was alleged to have brutalized a woman? In a criminal trial, this missing piece of information probably would have been an insurmountable obstacle for a prosecutor.

But this was a civil trial.

Carroll did not have to prove her case beyond a reasonable doubt. All she had to do was persuade the nine-person jury — six male and three female jurors — that it was more likely than not that Trump had assaulted her. On the defamation charge, she had to meet a "clear and convincing" standard. The speedy verdict indicates she more than met the burden of proof.

I know from personal experience that traumatic events can lodge in your soul and change the course of your life even if you don’t remember exactly when they happened. Shortly after I graduated from college, a jilted boyfriend of mine came to my apartment late one night and tried to strangle me. The Berkeley police who responded did not even file a report. Did it happen in 1978 or 1979? I have no idea.

I have long since given up hope that any of the heinous things Trump has done or said — including inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot and haranguing Georgia elections officials to fraudulently overturn President Biden’s 2020 victory in their state — will have any effect on his legions of supporters. Despite the shame of the outcome of this case for Trump, I doubt his status as the 2024 MAGA Republican presidential front-runner will change much if at all. His immediate response? "WITCH HUNT," as usual.

But I do want to dwell for a moment on E. Jean Carroll’s courage, and also her dignity and composure on the witness stand as she was hectored by Trump’s attorney about why she never screamed while the future president was attacking her.

Her response, in my view, provided the truest and most memorable line of the trial: “I’m telling you, he raped me whether I screamed or not.”


This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.