- Jessica Leedsretired businesswoman who says Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1980s and who testified in the civil trial against Trump brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.
A jury on Tuesday found Donald Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation against E. Jean Carroll, the writer who accused him of raping her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. We speak with one of the people who testified at trial: Jessica Leeds, a retired businesswoman who says Trump sexually assaulted her on an airplane in the 1980s — one of dozens of women who has accused him of sexual misconduct over the years. Leeds tells Democracy Now! she is “really pleased” with the verdict and that she hopes it will encourage other survivors of sexual abuse to come forward, although she is not personally interested in bringing a case against Trump. “This was a good outcome, and I’m very thankful,” says Leeds.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring into this discussion Jessica Leeds, who testified during the trial. She told jurors about how Trump groped her during a flight on a plane in the 1970s. In 2018, Jessica Leeds came to our Democracy Now! studio here in New York and described what happened when she sat next to Trump in first class on the flight.
JESSICA LEEDS: Dinner was served, and it was after dinner when, truly, all of a sudden, without a word, without a “by your leave” or about any kind of social conversation, he started groping me.
AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean? What did he do?
JESSICA LEEDS: His hands were — he was trying to kiss me. His hands were on my breasts. He was — we were kind of wrestling. But I didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything. So it was like this kind of kabuki theater in the silence. I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t the guy across the aisle say something? Why doesn’t the stewardess come back?” And it seemed to go on forever, but, of course, it didn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: He put his hand up your skirt?
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, he started putting his hand up my skirt. And that’s when I, with effort, managed to wiggle my way out, grabbed my purse, and I went to the back of the airplane. And I sat there until the plane landed and was completely clear, before — because I didn’t want to run into him.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jessica Leeds speaking on Democracy Now! in 2018. Again, she testified in E. Jean Carroll — the defamation and battery trial. She is joining us now from Asheville, North Carolina.
Jessica Leeds, thanks so much for rejoining us on Democracy Now! Can I first get your response to President Trump being found guilty of sexual assault against E. Jean Carroll?
JESSICA LEEDS: I’m really pleased. I’m pleased for E. Jean. I’m pleased for what it says. I am sorry that the jury couldn’t come up with a rape charge, but that’s kind of understandable. Baby steps here. Baby steps.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I was curious. She was able to file this suit because of this law that had opened up in New York, that still has six months where people can sue someone who assaulted them years ago. Are you weighing suing Donald Trump, as well?
JESSICA LEEDS: No, I have kids and grandkids and great-grandkids. I would not want to put them through that.
AMY GOODMAN: But what do — which is quite a testimonial to E. Jean Carroll, Jessica. What do you make of what E. Jean Carroll did, going through this again decades later? And talk about what made you decide to testify. There are dozens of women who have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault. You were one of two women who testified in E. Jean Carroll’s trial.
JESSICA LEEDS: Well, I think they wanted to use people who could show a pattern of behavior, especially over the years. This is what I got from talking to the lawyers. E. Jean is a very strong, creative woman. And when she finally recognized the damage that had been done to her, it had taken a while. And for her to step up and do this takes a great deal of courage. But I think she got some good support. I think she had damn good lawyers, and I think it paid off. I think I mentioned one time in an interview that I thought that all of these women had basically the same story, so for him to totally reject us is just sort of ridiculous.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting what Donald Trump said. He continually said now, on social media, in this video that he released — he said he does not know this woman. Now, interestingly, when E. Jean Carroll’s lawyer in the deposition showed him a picture — he kept saying, “She’s not my type. She’s not my type.” — showed him a picture and said, “Can you identify who this is?” he identified the woman the lawyer was pointing to in a photograph standing next to him as his second wife, Marla Maples, but, in fact, it was E. Jean Carroll. But when he says, “I did not know her, I don’t know her,” in fact, so many of these women, including you, Jessica Leeds, he did not know when he attacked you. Is that correct?
JESSICA LEEDS: That’s correct. And not only that, at this point in his life, he has selective memory. And most of these situations, most of this activity, it’s just like second nature to him. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t register at all, which is horrifying, because the psychological damage it does on people who are sexually abused is tremendous. But for him, ah, he likes women — he thinks he likes women. He likes dominating women. And he likes — but the real gist of it right now is, he can’t see past the aging process, so he looks at E. Jean, and she’s a late-seventies lady, and he can’t see what she looked like or see the beauty in her face right now. It’s stupid, but that’s part of our society’s problems, too.
AMY GOODMAN: And also this continually saying, “She’s not my type.” “She’s not my type” to sexually abuse?
JESSICA LEEDS: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, as we all know, rape and sexual abuse has everything to do with power —
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — and not to do with attraction.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Leeds, when we interviewed you, I always remembered you talking about the effect afterwards. I mean, you weren’t even sitting in first class. The flight attendant came to you, sitting — right? — in the back and said, “You can sit up here,” and that’s how you ended up sitting next to this man, Donald Trump.
JESSICA LEEDS: That’s correct. Yes, that’s correct.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you never wore a skirt again on a flight?
JESSICA LEEDS: That’s right. That’s right. Well, and I’d have to say — what was it? Two — a week ago? There was a report of a man putting his hand up the stewardess’s skirt. This day and age? I mean, this continues.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Leeds, do you hope that this will inspire other people to come forward, not only accusing Donald Trump, but especially, for example, this law in New York, though it doesn’t have to be just this law, but the Adult Survivors Act, that goes through the one-year lookback where a sexual assault survivor can file a case, this one time, period of time? Do you hope people who have been victims of sexual assault and rape will come forward now?
JESSICA LEEDS: The wheels of the justice system move so slowly. That’s a tough call. I really don’t know how useful that is to encourage people who have been sexually abused to take that route. I would just wish that in our society we could address this issue, talk about it, do some research, and help the survivors. You might even look upon this as a form of — we send men off to war and come back, and they’ve got PTSD. Well, how about women who have suffered sexual abuse getting some counseling and help and whatnot for that? That’s what I think.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica, I wanted to play for you Trump’s attorney, Joseph Tacopina, standing on the steps of the courthouse yesterday after the verdict came down.
JOSEPH TACOPINA: You know, we are — we’re, in one sense, gratified. And I know some people in this camp are very happy that, you know, the rape claim was rejected. But, you know, I’m not, and — I am happy about that, certainly, but I’m not happy that he was found liable for anything whatsoever.
AMY GOODMAN: He wasn’t fully committal on this, saying, well, at least Donald Trump wasn’t found guilty of rape. So, there were three choices in battery. One was rape. One was sexual assault. And the third was unwanted sexual touching. Your response to that point? Though, interestingly, Donald Trump hasn’t made it very much. Clearly, he understands the significance of this decision by a civil court coming down — unanimous — six men, three women finding him guilty of sexual assault as he runs for president again. But your response to that?
JESSICA LEEDS: Well, the lawyer, who was very aggressive and could be described as a bulldog, is doing his best to represent Trump. I hope he gets paid. And how much this is going to affect Trump’s core, who are, unfortunately, cult-like in their devotion, I don’t know how much this will help. But if it helps E. Jean and it brings the topic out for discussion and coverage, OK, I’m satisfied.
AMY GOODMAN: And final question: the issue of this being a civil trial, so, in fact, the difference between being found guilty and being found liable?
JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah, that’s what I mean about going to the justice system. There are people who are going to equate the fact that he wasn’t convicted, and they got confused over charges and whether — who was who, and who was defending, and who was prosecuting. It got pretty confusing. So, we need to go back to civics class. But I think this was a good outcome, and I’m very thankful.
AMY GOODMAN: And I’ll just ask a last question. You came out before President Trump won election in 2016, as did well over a dozen women. Was it 20, more than 20 women?
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: He was elected president. Now he has been found liable for sexually assaulting a woman in a department store dressing room. He’s running for president again. Your thoughts?
JESSICA LEEDS: Again, he has a core of people who will vote for him. The truest thing he ever said was he could stand at the corner of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and he would not lose any votes. That is so true. I just hope that the rest of the world can see through and know that we need somebody much, much better than this to manage the country.
AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Leeds, I want to thank you for being with us. She is one of two witnesses who testified in E. Jean Carroll’s case about their own experience of Donald Trump sexually assaulting them. She told jurors about how she sat down on a plane next to him in a flight in the 1970s and how he groped her. Moira Donegan, I also want to thank you, opinion columnist for The Guardian, a writer-in-residence at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. We’ll link to your pieces on this case.
Coming up, we speak to the Salvadoran poet and writer Javier Zamora, author of the best-selling memoir, Solito, about his 4,000-mile journey, without his family, from Salvador through Guatemala, Mexico, to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona as a 9-year-old. Stay with us.