- Moira Donegancolumnist covering gender and politics for The Guardian and a writer-in-residence at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.
A Manhattan jury on Tuesday sided with the writer E. Jean Carroll in her civil case against former President Donald Trump, finding him liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll, and awarding her $5 million in damages. The jury did not find that Trump had raped her, as she has claimed. Trump says he will appeal. The closely watched trial stemmed from an incident in the 1990s, when Carroll says Trump sexually assaulted her in a department store dressing room in New York. “Today, the world finally knows the truth,” Carroll said in a statement, reacting to the verdict. “This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.” We speak with columnist Moira Donegan, who covers gender and politics for The Guardian and who calls it “a really significant moment for American women, and specifically for the #MeToo movement.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Former President Donald Trump has been ordered to pay $5 million to writer E. Jean Carroll after a jury found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming her. The jury in the civil trial reached its verdict after just three hours of deliberations. The jury, however, did not find that Trump raped Carroll.
In a statement, E. Jean Carroll said, “I filed this lawsuit against Donald 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.
During the trial, E. Jean Carroll recounted how Trump sexually assaulted her in the '90s inside the dressing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store located a block from Trump Tower. During the trial, Trump's defense team did not call any witnesses, and Trump rejected his chance to testify during the trial.
On Tuesday, Trump, who’s running for president again, posted a number of messages and videos on his social media platform blasting the verdict.
DONALD TRUMP: We’ll be appealing this decision. It’s a disgrace. I don’t even know who this woman is. I have no idea who she is, where she came from. This is another scam. It’s a political witch hunt.
AMY GOODMAN: In a video deposition recently made public, Donald Trump claimed E. Jean Carroll was, quote, “not my type.” But during questioning in the taped deposition, Trump mistook E. Jean Carroll for his ex-wife Marla Maples.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: You’re saying Marla is in this photo?
DONALD TRUMP: That’s Marla, yeah. That’s my wife.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: Which woman are you pointing to?
ALINA HABBA: No, it’s that.
DONALD TRUMP: Here.
ALINA HABBA: Carroll.
DONALD TRUMP: Oh, it’s that? Oh, OK.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: The person you just pointed to is E. Jean Carroll.
DONALD TRUMP: Oh, I see. Who is that? Who is this?
ALINA HABBA: Furthers the point, in a way.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: And the person — the woman on the right is your then-wife Ivana?
DONALD TRUMP: I don’t know. This was the picture.
ALINA HABBA: Ivana.
DONALD TRUMP: I assume that’s John Johnson. Is that —
ALINA HABBA: That’s Carroll.
DONALD TRUMP: — Carroll? Because it’s very blurry.
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment, we’ll be joined by Jessica Leeds, who testified during the trial about how Trump sexually assaulted her during a flight in the 1970s. But we begin with Moira Donegan in San Francisco, an opinion columnist covering gender and politics for The Guardian, also a writer-in-residence at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.
Moira, thanks so much for joining us. Can you first respond to the verdict, to a unanimous jury finding Donald Trump liable for sexually assaulting and defaming E. Jean Carroll?
MOIRA DONEGAN: Well, thank you for having me, Amy.
And I think something to remember about this verdict is that it was unusually fast. That suggests that this wasn’t very close. You know, usually in even a civil trial like this, a jury will be out in deliberations for much longer. They came back yesterday in just under three hours, which suggests that, you know, there wasn’t a lot of doubt in the jurors’ minds about who was telling the truth here.
I think this is a really significant moment for American women, and specifically for the #MeToo movement. You know, Donald Trump was sort of the figure whose boorishness, his shamelessness, his long-standing impunity for sexual assault really did inspire this rage at the, you know, ongoing and very pervasive sexual abuse of women, mostly by men. And his lack of accountability for many years had been a motivator and an insult. You know, it was insulting, I think, to the citizenship of American women to have somebody who had been so contemptuous of their dignity in a position of great power. So, that a court of law has now held him accountable, held him liable, is, I think, a really significant moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the law that enabled E. Jean Carroll, decades later, to bring this lawsuit against Donald Trump here in New York City?
MOIRA DONEGAN: Yeah. So, you know, the law under which this lawsuit was filed is something called the New York Adult Survivors Act, which was a long time coming. It is a law that extended the statute of limitations or created a one-year — they call it a lookback window, that began on Thanksgiving, during which, you know, survivors of sexual abuse who have sort of gone past the statute of limitations, whose assaults occurred too long ago to file civil suits, have this opportunity over the course of a year to look back, to bring back their claims and to file civil — not criminal, but civil — suits that would have otherwise been prohibited by the statute of limitations. E. Jean Carroll lobbied for this law, and her attorneys filed the lawsuit just within hours of it having gone into effect.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, people can actually still file suits, right? That window is still open ’til — what is it? November?
MOIRA DONEGAN: Yes, there are six more months. If there’s any survivors in New York who have, you know, assaults, who have claims that have happened beyond the statute of limitations, they still have that opportunity to file civil claims and to try and get some justice.
AMY GOODMAN: During the trial, the jury was shown the infamous Access Hollywood video in which Trump brags about grabbing women’s genitals without asking permission.
DONALD TRUMP: I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
DONALD TRUMP: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
AMY GOODMAN: “You can do anything,” Trump said in that videotape. Well, during the videotape deposition, seen by the jury, Trump defended his comments in the Access Hollywood tape.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: Again, this has become very famous. In this video, “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. Grab them by the [bleep]. You can do anything.” That’s what you said, correct?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, historically, that’s true with stars.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: It’s true with stars that they can grab women by the [bleep]?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, that’s what — it’s — if you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true — not always, but largely true, unfortunately or fortunately.
ROBERTA KAPLAN: And you consider yourself to be a star?
DONALD TRUMP: I think you can say that, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump in the videotape deposition that was shown in court, and yet he refused to be there live to testify, which is extremely significant, Moira. If you can talk about this? I mean, he was golfing in Ireland at his golf course and said that he would be challenging E. Jean Carroll, whoever she is, and the judge in court. And when the judge took him up on the offer and said that — this was, what, last Thursday — that he’d have until Sunday, even though his lawyer had rested the case, to say whether he would come into court, he didn’t. The significance of this, Moira? So, the only thing the jury saw were these damning clips from his deposition.
MOIRA DONEGAN: It’s a really damning, it’s a really remarkable exchange. You know, that phrase “fortunately or unfortunately,” really, I think, bolstered Carroll’s claim that the Access Hollywood tape amounts to not, as Donald Trump had characterized it, mere, you know, quote-unquote, “locker room talk,” but really a confession, right? He’s reaffirming not only his misogynist attitudes but really a true lack of remorse and lack of a moral objection to sexual assault.
You know, Donald Trump performed so badly in that deposition, and he incriminated himself further in this kind of remarkable way, as you noted, and I think that, you know, it might not have been entirely unwise for him, from a legal standpoint, to avoid coming to the trial. I think, you know, he would not probably have performed very well on cross. He doesn’t have a lot of self-control. He’s very indignant. He’s very impulsive. And, you know, I don’t think he would have helped his own case.
That said, I think it did also make an impression on the jury, you know, how much disregard for the proceedings, disinterest in mounting a real defense, sort of seemingly casual irreverence for the seriousness of what was being alleged in the civil court. You know, I don’t think that helped him, either. I think, you know, all that the jurors really heard was a ton of corroboration from E. Jean Carroll, a ton of confessions and reaffirmations of his character and habits from the long record of Donald Trump, and particularly that Access Hollywood tape, which was played many times in court, but they didn’t really hear much of a defense from Trump’s side. And that, I think, you know, really made a big impression.