The advice columnist E Jean Carroll told a New York jury on Wednesday that Donald Trump raped her, leaving her unable to have a romantic relationship, and then “shattered my reputation” by denying the attack occurred.
Carroll testified in her civil lawsuit seeking damages for battery – after Trump allegedly sexually assaulted her in a New York department store changing room in 1996 – and for defamation, after he accused her of lying and perpetrating a hoax when she went public with her accusations in a book.
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen. He lied and shattered my reputation. I’m here to try and get my life back,” she told the jury.
Trump denies the accusations.
Before Carroll testified, Judge Lewis Kaplan warned Trump may have crossed the line into jury-tampering after the former president posted an attack on his social media site, Truth Social, calling Carroll’s accusations a “made-up SCAM” and a “witch-hunt”.
Kaplan called Trump’s post “entirely inappropriate” and warned they could become “a potential source of liability” for him.
After she took the stand, Carroll described running into Trump as she was leaving the Bergdorf Goodman luxury department store.
“He said, ‘I need to buy a gift, come help me,’” she said. “I was delighted.”
Carroll said she suggested a handbag and then a hat for the woman Trump said he was buying for but he wasn’t interested.
“He picked up a fur hat and he was petting it like a cat or a dog. Then he said, ‘I know, lingerie,’” she said. “He led the way to the escalator.”
Carroll described Trump as very talkative, and herself as “absolutely enchanted”.
“I was delighted to go to lingerie with him. He was very funny,” she said.
Carroll said Trump “snatched up” a grey-blue bodysuit in the lingerie department and demanded she try it on. “I had no intention of putting it on. I said, ‘You put it on, it’s your colour,’” she told the court.
Carroll said Trump suggested they both try it on, and motioned toward the dressing room. She said she did not take it seriously.
“Donald Trump was being very light. It was very joshing and very funny,” she said. “I was flirting the whole time, probably.”
But, she said, the mood changed rapidly after they stepped into the dressing room.
“He immediately shut the door and shoved me up against the wall. He shoved me so hard my head banged. I was extremely confused,” she said. “I pushed back and he thrust me back against the wall again, banging my head again.”
Carroll told the jury the situation “turned absolutely dark”.
“He leaned down and pulled down my tights,” she said. “I was pushing him back. It was quite clear I didn’t want anything else to happen.”
Carroll described the former president’s attempts to kiss her as “a shocking thing”.
“My whole reason for being alive at that moment was to get out of the room,” she said.
But Carroll said she could not escape Trump’s grip. Speaking quietly and slowly, she said he raped her.
Carroll said she escaped after she was able to lift her knee and push him off. She fled the store.
Carroll said she will always regret going into the dressing room with Trump, describing it as “very stupid”.
“It left me unable to ever have a romantic life again,” she said.
Later, Carroll shed tears as she explained that she found it impossible to even smile at a man she was attracted to after the alleged rape, and that she had not had sex since.
Carroll said she continued to put on a public face of the “invincible old lady” but that the “private E Jean is not that cheerleader”. She acknowledged that in her book she had claimed not to have suffered mental anguish as a result of the alleged assault, but said that was her “public person” speaking while her private self suffered.
Carroll also admitted there was a contradiction between her role as an advice columnist telling readers to seek therapy or go to the police, and her own failure to do either.
Carroll said she considers Trump “evil” and thought he was a “terrible” president, but denied bringing the lawsuit against him because of her political views.
“I’m not settling a political score. I’m settling a personal score,” she said.
Carroll said she had been subject to considerable abuse by Trump and his supporters for going public about the alleged attack, including the then president’s dismissal of her as a liar. Carroll said she had expected him to say they had a consensual encounter, not deny it altogether.
“It hit me and it laid me low 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, and the people who had no opinion now thought I was a liar and hated me,” she said. “The force of hatred coming at me was staggering.”
Carroll said she was also fired from her advice column at Elle magazine after 26 years.
Asked if she regretted accusing Trump given the consequences, Carroll’s voice broke.
“I regretted this about 100 times but, in the end, being able to get my day in court finally is everything,” she said, through tears.
The trial continues.
By Chris McGreal in New York/TheGuardian