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E. Jean Carroll Wins Major Victory for Sexual Abuse Survivors Even as Trump Continues to Target Her

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Under a law passed last year in New York that allows sexual abuse survivors to sue their abusers in civil court even after the criminal statute of limitations has passed, a jury has found former President Donald Trump to be liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll at a department store in the 1990s. After just three hours of deliberations, the jury ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million. Following the ruling, Trump appeared in a televised town hall on CNN, where he mocked E. Jean Carroll while the Republican audience laughed at his remarks. We discuss the verdict, Trump’s response and the legal system’s treatment of sexual assault cases with Jane Manning, a former sex crimes prosecutor who is now the director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking more at how a New York jury has found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming the writer E. Jean Carroll at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the 1990s. After just three hours of deliberations, the jury ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million. On Wednesday, E. Jean Carroll talked about the ruling during an interview on The Today Show on NBC.

E. JEAN CARROLL: I am overwhelmed, overwhelmed with joy and happiness and delight for the women in this country. … Here is the astonishing thing about this win yesterday. Of all the cases that this man faces, all the legal quagmires, it was one — well, let’s think of all the prosecutors, all the special counsel, all the investigators. And what happened yesterday is one five-foot-two little, blonde, wily female attorney and one 79-year-old —

ROBERTA KAPLAN: Five-foot-nine year old.

E. JEAN CARROLL: Yes.

ROBERTA KAPLAN: Five-foot nine.

E. JEAN CARROLL: Five-foot-nine — 79-year-old advice columnist beat Donald Trump in court.

AMY GOODMAN: During the trial, Donald Trump’s defense team did not call any witnesses. Trump rejected his chance to testify. But on Wednesday night, in a televised town hall on CNN, Trump mocked E. Jean Carroll, while the Republican audience laughed and applauded his remarks.

DONALD TRUMP: Are you ready?

KAITLAN COLLINS: Mr. President, can I — can I — can I ask you, because —

DONALD TRUMP: And I swear on my children, which I never do, I have no idea who this woman — this is a fake story, made-up story. We had a horrible Clinton-appointed judge. He was horrible. He allowed her to put everything in. He allowed us to put nothing in.

KAITLAN COLLINS: Mr. President — 

DONALD TRUMP: This is a fake story.

KAITLAN COLLINS: — you’re recounting your version of events here right now. …

DONALD TRUMP: And I swear — and I’ve never done that. And I swear to you, I have no idea who the hell — she’s a whack job.

AMY GOODMAN: After CNN’s town hall ended, Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared on MSNBC and blasted Trump’s remarks and CNN’s handling of the town hall.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I know you said earlier that you will not comment on the platforming of such atrocious disinformation, but I would. I think it was a profoundly irresponsible decision. I don’t think that it would — I would be doing my job if I did not say that. And what we saw tonight was a series of extremely irresponsible decisions that put a sexual abuse victim at risk, that put that person at risk in front of a national audience, and I could not have disagreed with it more. It was shameful.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Jane Manning, a former sex crimes prosecutor, now the director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, which serves survivors of sexual assault.

Jane, it’s great to have you with us. If you can both respond to what Donald Trump keeps on repeating about E. Jean Carroll, even after being found guilty by — unanimously by a jury of six men and three women, found liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, and respond to the verdict itself and the significance of it?

JANE MANNING: Let’s start with the verdict itself, because I think the headline of this story is that the verdict was a resounding victory for E. Jean Carroll. Some people have had questions about why the jury didn’t find him liable for rape. I think that goes to some ambiguities in E. Jean’s own testimony about whether she was sure whether she was fully penetrated or not. Sometimes a jury will hear that and say, “OK, well, if she’s not sure, we’re not sure.”

But the sexual abuse that she described was unequivocal, and the jury delivered a verdict that was unequivocal in less than three hours, which shows that there was broad consensus among the jurors that they thoroughly believed E. Jean Carroll. And so, to come back within three hours delivering a verdict of liability for sex abuse and a $5 million damages award shows that this jury believed E. Jean, that they believed what happened to her was a serious offense and a serious violation of her rights, and they decided to award damages accordingly. So, her message of celebration yesterday morning is absolutely right. This was a victory for her, and it was a victory for all of the survivors who were rooting for her as she approached her trial.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, I asked you what Trump — about Trump’s comments, you know, defaming her once again.

JANE MANNING: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the judge’s warning about him doing this? And also, we said “despite the verdict,” but maybe it was because of the verdict that he did that.

JANE MANNING: Well, let’s point out that Donald Trump is very free with his comments and his insults outside of a courtroom, but he didn’t have the guts to walk into the courtroom, take an oath, testify under penalty of perjury, subject himself to cross-examination. Those are all the things that E. Jean Carroll was willing to do. And those are the things that, under our rule of law, transform a person’s account from mere talk to testimony. Donald Trump wasn’t willing to go into court and back up his words with actual sworn testimony. E. Jean Carroll was.

I think it was really a wrong move for CNN to give Donald Trump, a man who tried to overthrow American democracy, a big piece of primetime airtime to spout whatever he wanted to spout. At the end of the day, though, the jury verdict is in, and Donald Trump can say what he wants, but he was afraid to face down this woman in court. And I think we shouldn’t let the public forget that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Jane, could you explain the origins of the New York Adult Survivors Act, under which this case was heard, where the jury was adjudicating on the basis of that act? If you could explain its origins and also why, even though what Trump is accused of and what he’s been found liable for are criminal offenses, this was actually a civil case?

JANE MANNING: It was a civil case. And, in fact, the conduct that Donald Trump was found liable for could have been prosecuted in a criminal court, but for the fact that the statute of limitations had expired. Now, New York has since abolished its statute of limitations on rape, but that only applies to rape cases from 2001 forward. It doesn’t go back earlier than that. And that’s why E. Jean Carroll’s case was never a candidate for criminal prosecution. So she sued Donald Trump civilly under a cause of action called sexual battery. And that is what the jury found him liable for, for conduct that meets the legal description of the crime of sexual abuse. But it was a civil verdict for sexual battery that he was found responsible for.

You asked about the Adult Survivors Act. So, the Adult Survivors Act is a law that was passed last year, and it opens a one-year window of opportunity, from November of 2022 to November of this year, 2023, for survivors of sexual assault to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator of the sexual assault, even if the normal civil statute of limitations had expired. So, normally, the statute of limitation for a civil lawsuit for sexual battery in New York state is only a year. And as we know, that’s just not a realistic view of what happens for some survivors in terms of coming to terms with sexual abuse and coming forward to report it. And so, there was a group of sexual assault survivors who took up this issue in Albany, and they were a group of very specific women — Drew Dixon, Marissa Hoechstetter, Evelyn Yang, Alison Turkos. And they lobbied the Albany Legislature to create this one-year window of opportunity under which survivors can bring a civil lawsuit even if they would otherwise have been time-barred.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you explain the federal statute that was part of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed evidence of similar crimes to be admissible in sex crime cases, and how that worked, if at all, in the case of E. Jean Carroll?

JANE MANNING: Absolutely, because what we saw in E. Jean Carroll’s trial was that two other women — Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff — were permitted to testify about their experiences of being sexually assaulted by Donald Trump in much the same way that E. Jean Carroll described. This testimony was admissible because of a federal rule, 415, that was enacted as part of the Violence Against Women Act in the early 1990s. And it provides that in federal court, civil or criminal trials, evidence of similar crimes is admissible in a sex crime trial. That law was passed because Congress, as part of the Violence Against Women Act, recognized that survivors of sexual assault face added hurdles, beyond those faced by other survivors, to seeking justice in court and that there is a strong societal interest in being able to hold sexual predators accountable.

It’s important to note, however, that the vast majority of sex crime cases, civil or criminal, are tried in state courts, where this law is not in effect. And so, we often have the perverse situation where a survivor takes the witness stand, and if she has, let’s say, a shoplifting conviction, she can be cross-examined about that, but if a defendant has seven prior sex crime convictions, that is concealed from the jury. And that happens on the theory that jurors will be prejudiced; they’ll be run away with by their emotions, and they won’t be able to look at the actual case that’s on trial.

What we know now from experience is that is not true. And Donald Trump’s case is one example of that. The jury wasn’t afraid to look at the verdict sheet, think back to E. Jean Carroll’s testimony and say, “Well, we’re not convinced of this allegation, because she expressed some ambiguity about it, but she was clear about this count, this count and this count, and we thoroughly believe her. So we are going to find Donald Trump liable for those things.” And so, what they showed, and what other juries have shown, is that they’re not afraid to parse through the charges, parse through the evidence, and base their verdict on what they believe about the crime at hand.

So, it is time for states to go back and reexamine that rule of law that says jurors cannot know if there is a pattern to a defendant’s behavior. Jurors have shown that they can handle it. The #MeToo movement has shown us why that kind of evidence is so relevant. It’s time for activists in all the states that don’t permit this kind of testimony to go to our legislatures and say, “Let’s take another look at this. Let’s change the laws to give survivors a better shot at justice,” like the shot that E. Jean Carroll had.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Jane Manning, we want to go to E. Jean Carroll in her own words, speaking Wednesday following the verdict.

E. JEAN CARROLL: It is a moment, which, before yesterday, there was a concept of the perfect victim. The perfect victim always screams, always reports to the police, always makes note when it happened. And then her life is supposed — the perfect victim’s life is supposed to fold up, and she’s never sort of supposed to be happy again. And yesterday we demolished that old concept. It is gone. It is gone. And I am — I’m overwhelmed with happiness for the women of the country. It’s really not about me so much. It’s about every woman.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Jane Manning, you work with survivors of sexual violence, and you said, after the verdict came, that your cellphone was buzzing with messages of relief and joy from survivors. So, if you could talk about what you think the broader impact of this verdict will be on other survivors?

JANE MANNING: I think every time there’s a high-profile rape case, it gives us an opportunity to have important conversations about what real rape looks like, because there are a lot of myths about who the perfect victim is and what a real rape is and what it is not. And E. Jean Carroll did a brilliant job of summarizing that in her comments — oh, the idea that a real victim always screams, always goes straight to the police, never acts happy again for the rest of her life. E. Jean Carroll didn’t fit that script, and yet she was so forthcoming about who she is and why she did the things that she did, I think some of the things that made her a, quote-unquote, “imperfect victim” are actually some of the things that made her a very credible witness. It gives us all a chance as a culture to learn more about what we should and should not expect the facts of a rape case to look like.

At the same time, it also gives us a chance to acknowledge that for most survivors, the system is still not working the way it worked for E. Jean Carroll. Civil lawsuits are prohibitively expensive for most survivors. Rape shield laws are very unevenly enforced in civil litigation around the country. And in criminal justice, we still have police departments that can find overwhelming resources to arrest peaceful protesters or women selling food on the subway — they can find the resources for that, but they are still not coming up with the resources to do proper investigations of sex crimes or to train detectives to do trauma-informed interviews. Right here in New York City, the NYPD allocates less than 1% of its personnel to all cases of sex crimes and all child abuse cases in all of New York City. That’s exactly upside down from where we should be. And so we still have a lot more work to do so that other survivors can achieve justice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to ask you two questions, Jane Manning. One is, you know, Trump keeps attacking this as a Democratic hit job on him. But, of course, we don’t even know who the jurors are. And I want to ask you about the fact that they were anonymous. In fact, it’s something that Tacopina, his lawyer, said he’s going to appeal on, their anonymity, anonymous also to the lawyers. And, two, he talks about Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, being one of the funders of this lawsuit that E. Jean Carroll brought. I mean, there is no question Roberta Kaplan is an astonishing lawyer, but who can afford this kind of defense? And that goes to people all over the country who might want to bring charges. And even in this case, when E. Jean Carroll wins, if you can say that — let’s not forget she was attacked decades ago — but even when she does, I mean, it’s not only the mocking of Trump that Trump does at this town hall; what’s more frightening is the cheers from the crowd in the audience. That’s a lot to unpack.

JANE MANNING: Amy, it’s horrifying. And what it says to me is, once again, we have to recognize the close connection between the health of women’s rights and the health of our democracy. The two go hand in hand. When democracy is undermined, women’s rights are undermined. Just listen to the way Donald Trump talks about his worldview, of a world where if you’re a powerful man, you can do what you want to women, and you can get away with it. Remember the way he rubbed that in Robbie Kaplan’s face during the deposition. “It’s been that way for a million years,” he said. And then he paused, and then he said, “Unfortunately or fortunately.” He wants a world where there’s no democratic accountability, and specifically there’s no legal accountability for men who perpetrate sexual assault.

Amy, you’re absolutely right that our civil justice system is out of reach for most survivors. I would love to see more of our wonderful law firms devoting pro bono resources to representing survivors. I personally have seen some law firms do that kind of work, and they’ve made life-changing differences for survivors. But there will never be enough pro bono representation to address all of the rape cases that exist. Moreover, there are defendants that are just not appropriate for civil relief. We need a functioning criminal justice system that is prioritizing rape cases over arresting nonviolent people for crimes of poverty and addiction. So, we really need to redouble our efforts to make both civil and criminal justice systems more reflective of the true values of our community and the true priorities of women and all survivors in our community.

Look, I was chilled by what I heard in the CNN town hall last night. It was not a representative sample of the American public. It was a hand-picked audience of Republican Trump supporters. At the same time, I think it is essential that we realize that we have a long way to go before we have a legal system that truly reflects the values of Americans, because I do believe that there is broad consensus among Americans that perpetrators of sexual assault should be held accountable, are not yet consistently being held accountable, and there’s a lot we can do to change that.

AMY GOODMAN: And the anonymous jury? We just have 30 seconds.

JANE MANNING: The anonymous jury is not going to be a grounds for a successful appeal. There is no right that a defendant has to a nonanonymous jury. And the judge made a great record as to why Donald Trump’s own history of attacking and endangering people with his inflammatory rhetoric was the reason why he chose to protect the jurors’ identities in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Manning, we want to thank you for being with us, former sex crimes prosecutor, director of the Women’s Equal Justice Project, which serves survivors of sexual assault. You can also go to democracynow.org to see our interview yesterday with Jessica Leeds, one of the two witnesses who testified on behalf of E. Jean Carroll, who describes being sexually assaulted by Donald Trump.

Next up, we get an update on scandal-plagued Republican Congressmember George Santos, arrested Wednesday on 13 felony charges, still refusing to resign. Back in 30 seconds.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “If It Don’t Bleed” by James McMurtry. The Texas musician has been performing in a dress at his Tennessee concerts in protest of the state’s anti-drag law.

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