NEW YORK – In blunt and at times emotional testimony, E. Jean Carroll took the stand Wednesday in her civil lawsuit accusing Donald Trump of rape, saying of the alleged incident that “my whole reason for being alive in that moment was to get out of that room.”
Carroll, a magazine columnist, has accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in a dressing room of luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s. She is suing him for battery and defamation in a trial that began Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. He has denied the allegations, saying the incident “never happened” and that she has perpetrated a “hoax.”
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me,” Carroll told the jury Wednesday. Referring to a book she wrote in which she detailed the alleged incident, she said: “And when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen. He lied and shattered my reputation. And I’m here to try to get my life back.”
Carroll will be cross-examined by Trump’s attorneys. It wasn’t clear Wednesday afternoon when that questioning would begin.
In much of her initial testimony, Carroll, 79, was matter-of-fact, but when one of her lawyers, Mike Ferrara, asked her about the moment Trump allegedly inserted his penis into Carroll, she stammered, took a lengthy pause and began to cry. “I….I…I tried. I…,” she said, before pausing. “When you asked me what I did in that moment, I always think back to why I walked in there to get myself in that situation,” she said, crying. “But I did get out.”
Carroll, a longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine, testified that she and Trump had met years before the alleged incident, and she liked him. “I thought he was well-known, a raconteur, man-about-town,” she said. “Well-liked.” Asked if she thought he was attractive, she said yes.
According to Carroll, she bumped into Trump at the door to Bergdorf’s, and he asked her to help him pick out a gift. “Oh, I was delighted,” she recalled. “Well, it was such a funny New York scene. I’m a born advice columnist. I love to give advice, and here was Donald Trump asking me to give advice about buying a present.”
Carroll has said she does not remember the exact date but believes it was in late 1995 or early 1996. A lawyer for Trump tried to use the lack of a date to undermine her account in his opening statement on Tuesday.
But in her testimony Wednesday, Carroll provided a detailed account of what she says happened that day. She and Trump browsed the store, she said, and eventually made their way up the escalator to the lingerie department on the sixth floor. The tone of their conversation was “very joshing” and light-hearted, Carroll testified, and the two teased each other about which one should try on a lace bodysuit. “I was flirting the whole time, probably,” she said.
Trump took her by the arm and led her to a dressing room, she said. Asked if she ever thought about saying no, she replied that “it didn’t occur to me.”
“The door was open and that open door has plagued me for years, because I just walked into it. Just walked in,” she said, as though in disbelief.
Carroll said it took her a moment to register that their cheerful encounter had taken a turn.
“He immediately shut the door and shoved me up against the wall,” she testified. “And shoved me so hard my head banged. I was extremely confused and suddenly realizing that what I thought was happening was not happening.”
She testified that she didn’t call for help or yell. “This is going to sound odd: I didn’t want to make a scene,” she said. “I didn’t want to make him angry at me. This started out as something fun and light and comedic and something to tell people you were having dinner with, and it suddenly turned absolutely dark.”
At the time, Carroll said, she was 5’9” and about 120 pounds and was wearing 4-inch heels, making her approximately Trump’s height but about 100 pounds lighter. “His head was beside mine, breathing,” she said.
“His whole weight came against my chest and held me up there. And he leaned down and pulled down my tights,” she said. “I was pushing him back,” she said, holding up her hands to demonstrate.
Carroll said she was “stamping and trying to wriggle out from under him.”
“But he had pulled down my tights and his fingers went into my vagina and it was extremely painful,” she said. “Extremely painful, because he put his hand inside me and curved his fingers. As I’m sitting here today I can still feel it,” she said, her voice cracking.
“Then what happened?” her lawyer, Ferrara, asked. “Then he inserted his penis,” she said, and the alleged assault lasted a few minutes. “I had so much adrenaline pouring through me at this time, I can’t recall if I said anything.”
After pushing Trump off of her, she said, Carroll fled the store and ran out onto Fifth Avenue.
“Sitting here today, how do you feel about going into that dressing room?” Ferrara asked.
“It was very stupid,” Carroll said. “It changed…” she paused. “I know people have been through a lot worse than this, but it had…it left me, it left me unable to ever have a romantic life again.”
Carroll said she immediately called one friend, Lisa Birnbach, and the next day told another friend, Carol Martin. She said she never told anyone else until she went public with her account in 2019.
Asked if she was afraid of how others would react, she said she wasn’t. “No, I knew how others would react,” she said. “Women who are raped are looked at as soiled goods. They’re looked at as less.”
Trump has accused her of being financially motivated to smear him, but Carroll said she has taken an economic hit from the episode. She testified that she received a $70,000 advance for her 2019 book in which she made the allegation, which was “way less” than other book advances she has received. Asked how the book sold, she replied, “Oh, not at all. Terrible.”
She also said she was fired by Elle, which had paid her $5,000 per month.
The former president has also accused Carroll of wanting to damage him politically, and on Wednesday her lawyers introduced a 2017 email between Carroll and Martin that Trump’s lawyer suggested in his opening statement hinted at their intention to take him down.
In response to an email referencing Trump, Martin wrote: “As soon as we are both well enuf to scheme, we must do our patriotic duty again…” Carroll responded: “TOTALLY!!! I have something special for you when we meet.”
“Were you and Ms. Martin scheming to bring down Donald Trump?” Carroll’s lawyer asked. She laughed and said no.
Carroll also testified about the emotional impact of Trump’s denial of her claims. “People have gone through much worse than being reviled by President Trump for three days, much worse — I understand that — but boy it hit me and it laid me low,” she said. “Because I lost my reputation. Nobody looked at me the same. It was gone. Even people who knew me looked at me with pity in their eyes … the force of hatred coming at me was staggering.”
After receiving physical threats, she said, she purchased bullets for a gun she owned.
She testified that she also received messages of support, but that the “vileness and the dirt” overwhelmed the encouraging feedback.
And she testified to one more consequence of the alleged rape: she said it left her unable to have a romantic relationship or to have sex in the years since it occurred.
When her lawyer asked if she thought her age had anything to do with that matter, she replied: “I don’t think so. I’m a young 79, and at 52, a woman is really reaching a glorious peak because she’s got the right job, she’s got the right look, she’s not self-conscious about her body anymore. 52 is a great, just a great age. It’s one of the most powerful ages a woman can be.”
Later in the afternoon, Carroll again broke into tears on the witness stand when questioned about whether she was happy she spoke out. “I’ve regretted this about 100 times,” she said, pausing. “But in the end, being able to get my day in court finally is everything to me,” she said, her speech interrupted by crying. “So I’m happy.”