The facts about E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump did not matter to NY jury

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Commentary by Bill Juneau, February 6, 2024

Behind every anti-Trump story, there appears to be the political fingers of Democrats, with the customary clapping from the media.

This extraordinarily, suspicious story line involves Ms. E. Jean Carroll, a journalist and author, who sued the former President for rape and for defamation of character and won judgments totaling $88.3 million dollars.

The ex-President says it is all part of the continuing witch hunt against him. Many lawyers are predicting that the nonsense of the case and the lame partisan rulings from the bench will never withstand the scrutiny of an honest appellate court. So what’s it all about?

Bergdorf Goodman department store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. / CC BY 3.0

Ms. E. Jean Carroll’s main forte in life was dispensing advice to love-torn women via her column, “Ask E. Jean” in the “Elle” magazine. She provided her wisdom to unhappy and struggling women for some 26 years before retiring in 2020.

Somewhere around late 1995 or early 1996, Carroll isn’t sure, she tells of bumping into real estate mogul Donald Trump inside the fashionable Bergdorf Goodman department store across the street from Trump Towers on Fifth avenue in Manhattan. She related her story in a written article and in her book, ‘What do we need men for: A Modest Proposal” published in 2019; and later in testimony in a federal court in New York.

Carroll has said that they hit it off on a friendly note, and chatted over Trump’s desire to find a nice gift for a lady friend. E.Jean, is now 80, but then was in her 50s. She has noted that she was a couple of years older than the “handsome,” wealthy, and well known real estate pro. He asked her “advice” for an appropriate gift, and she agreed to help. They talked of possible gifts, and E Jean admits to being a bit flirty as they made small talk and discussed the airy possibility of Trump’s purchase of a “lace bodysuit.”

With laughs about who will try on a bodysuit, they made their way to the lingerie department and into a dressing room where customers try on clothes. Carroll has said that they ribbed each other about who would actually try on the bodysuit.

The next moment, Carroll said, Trump did an about face. Still wearing his business attire composed of a shirt, tie, and jacket, under an overcoat, she said, he opened the overcoat, unzipped his pants, pulled down her underclothing, and forced his fingers around her private area….and “thrusts his penis halfway or completely, I’m not certain — inside me.” The whole episode lasts no more than three minutes….”

She has written: ” I am wearing a pair of sturdy black patent-leather four-inch Barneys high heels, which puts my height around six-one, and I try to stomp his foot. I try to push him off with my one free hand — for some reason, I keep holding my purse with the other — and I finally get a knee up high enough to push him out and off and I turn, open the door, and run out of the dressing room onto fifth avenue.” The busy store was practically empty at the time, she recalled.

She did not report the attack to police, and subsequently was told there were no cameras which could verify her story. Big stores in Manhattan generally have cameras all around but Carroll said she was told there were none there. Unlike President Clinton’s situation in past years, Carroll had no “blue dress” which would confirm her story. She kept the attack secret for 22 years, but has said that she did share the story with two close friends. One told her to inform authorities of the attack, and the other advised her that making a police report would invite unnecessary problems. At her trial, her two friends testified and said, yes, they remember Carroll telling them of Trump’s attack more than two decades ago.

Carroll’s book actually revealed tales about a score of unsavory and unlikeable men she has known through the years. The President, she said, was not the only man who had gone after her sexually. In fact, E. Jean told of other men, who had sexually made a move on her. One. she identified as Leslie Moonves, former CEO of CBS Television. She announced in her writings that Moonves had accosted her “in an elevator,” after she had interviewed him for a story and began kissing her and attempted to force his tongue into her mouth.

Moonves vehemently denied the allegation and the story of his attack ran out of steam in short order. The allegation and denial prompted speculation of a settlement by Moonves to make the story go away.

When Donald Trump learned of the story and the allegations against him, he was the nation’s 45th President. From the White House, he exploded with loud public denials, and said he had never met the “Elle” columnist and that the story was fiction and that “E. Jean” was pursuing a big pay day. She is a “liar” and a “whack job,” said Trump. It is just more of the same old political witch hunt; along with efforts to sell her book.

In the face of Trump’s denunciations of Carroll who hid her “story” for almost a quarter of a century, Carroll reportedly consulted a well-known Trump-hating New York lawyer who recommended that she sue the President for the assault and for defamation for calling her a “liar and a whack job.” It was a “smoking hot” story about the menacing Donald Trump and New York has the citizenry and judges and politicians eager to endorse that type of lawsuit.

The Donald Trump advance on an innocent woman, a former Miss Indiana university in the 1960s, was filed as a civil suit seeking monetary damages and it went to trial in Federal District court in spring of 2023. A New York jury heard Carroll’s story of the attack, but the President declined to testify, and E. Jean was victorious. The jury assigned damages for defamation and sexual abuse at $5 million.

The findings that Trump assaulted Carroll who he had never known, are not based upon provable evidence. The punitive award is grossly excessive and is a political judgment designed to weaken him and prevent him from running for another term of President in 2024.

Yes, Trump had abused E. Jean sexually in that tiny room, the jury found, and never even took off his heavy overcoat or suit coat. Trump’s alleged humping and pumping, and E. Jean’s muffled cries in the busy. fifth avenue store never drew notice, asserts Carroll. The New York jury was chosen in a city where Trump detractors dominate in overwhelming numbers. Citizens in the Big Apple will never forget how the anointed Hillary Clinton, known to Trump as “Crooked Hillary,” went down in defeat in the 2016 presidential election. It was a “get Trump” yarn which New Yorkers loved, and a new chance to put Trump down and get even on behalf of Democrats.

There has been a good deal of criticism of the jury’s finding of defamation in light of Trump’s right to speak out and criticize the plaintiff with First Amendment protection. Many aspects of E. Jean’s allegations are questionable and are part of the President’s pending appeal to a higher court.

Following the jury verdict in the first civil litigation, the 80-year-old Carroll was a guest at CNN and she told how the President had raped her and then defamed her.

In response, Trump again tore into E.Jean calling her a “liar” and and a “whack job” out to sell her book. In response to the President’s upbraiding Carroll again, anti-Trump legal experts persuaded her to file a second complaint for defamation seeking actual and punitive damages.

Trump then countersued E. Jean for defamation against him noting that she had lied on CNN claiming that she had been raped when the jury declined to make that finding. She had maliciously defamed him and knew she was lying, Trump charged.

The second case was tried before a New York jury and was presided over by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan who was appointed to federal bench in 1994 by President Clinton after recommendation by Democratic New York Senator Patrick Moynihan.

The jury, relying upon challenged rulings of the judge concerning defamation law, awarded plaintiff Carroll $16 million for actual damages to her reputation and $65 million in punitive damages. With the earlier judgment against him, Trump became indebted to Carroll for a total of $88.3 million. Trump’s countersuit for defamation was thrown out by Judge Kaplan who declared it to be a tactic for delay, according to news reports.

Trump is appealing both jury decisions to higher courts and is confident that the judgments will be overruled.

Trump and his lawyers maintain that the President has a right of free speech in accord with the First Amendment. Words alone and name calling do not constitute defamation, and plaintiff Carroll never suffered any loss of income or humiliations as a result of calling her a “liar” looking for money. Her “actual” damages as a result of the so-called defamation, are nothing, according to attorneys for Trump.

The findings that Trump assaulted Carroll who he had never known, are not based upon provable evidence. The punitive award is grossly excessive and is a political judgment designed to weaken him and prevent him from running for another term of President in 2024.

Bill Juneau worked for 25 years as a reporter and night city editor at the Chicago Tribune. Subsequently he became a partner in a law firm and also served as a village prosecutor and as a consultant to the Cook County Circuit Court and to the Cook County Medical Examiner. He is currently writing columns and the ‘Florida Bill‘ blog.