The Trump rape trial is headed to the jury. Here are the questions jurors will weigh.
Lawyers for Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll offered closing arguments Monday in the civil trial in which Carroll has accused the former president of raping her in a dressing room at a luxury department store in the mid-1990s. She is suing him for battery and defamation. He has denied her claims, saying the alleged incident “never happened.”
The judge is expected to instruct the jury on Tuesday morning, after which the jurors will begin deliberating.
In more than four hours of closing arguments, lawyers for both sides offered a series of questions for the jury to consider. Here are some of the most critical.
Is Carroll credible?
Carroll’s attorneys made their client’s three–day appearance on the witness stand the centerpiece of their case, and during closing arguments her lawyer Roberta Kaplan said her client’s testimony was “credible, it was consistent and it was powerful.” Kaplan told the jury that “every single aspect of what she said is backed up or corroborated by other evidence,” including not just the alleged incident at Bergdorf Goodman, but also Carroll’s account that she told two friends about it contemporaneously.
Kaplan pointed to the testimony of those two friends, saying details from their testimony rang true. One of the friends, Lisa Birnbach, testified that when Carroll called her and told her of the attack, Birnbach was busy feeding dinner to her two young children and went into another room to avoid uttering “rape” in front of them. “The fact that she left the kitchen, by the way, is a very telling detail,” Kaplan said. “It’s the kind of detail you don’t make up.”
Another member of Carroll’s defense team, Mike Ferrara, argued that some of the holes in Carroll’s account, primarily the fact that she can’t recall the precise date on which the alleged rape occurred, actually bolster her credibility. If she were manufacturing the story, Ferrara said, she would have named a date to avoid criticism over her failure to do so.
Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina, however, made those holes the centerpiece of his defense of the former president, saying the jury shouldn’t find someone unable to recall the date of her alleged rape to be a trustworthy witness. He seized on her testimony that she now recalls that the alleged attack took place on a Thursday. “Now she claims she didn’t say the day of the week because she wasn’t 100% certain,” he said. “She tailored her testimony right in front of you, right in front of you.”
“We know reality from fiction,” he told the jury.
Repeatedly pointing out that Carroll never went to the police to report the alleged rape, Tacopina suggested to the jury that was because the case “would never make it through a police investigation in a million years.”
Is the “Access Hollywood” tape a confession of sexual assault or “locker room talk”?
Carroll’s attorneys showed, referenced or described parts of this tape at least five separate times during their closing arguments. Kaplan argued that Trump’s infamous commentary captured on a hot mic constitutes a roadmap he has used to repeatedly commit sexual assault. The tape is from 2005 and resurfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I just start kissing them,” he says on the tape, referring to attractive women. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he says on the recording, adding: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
“What is Donald Trump doing here? Telling you in his very own words how he treats women,” Kaplan said to the jury. “It’s his modus operandi, M.O.” Or as Ferrara put it: “It was a confession.”
“The evidence in this case established overwhelmingly that Trump followed the same playbook” when he assaulted Carroll, Kaplan said. “He grabbed her, using his words, by the pussy.”
Kaplan also seized on Trump’s response to the “Access Hollywood” recording in portions of a videotaped deposition that were played for the jury, particularly his answer to whether he stood by the statement that a star could “grab them by the pussy.”
Trump said: “Well, I guess if you look over the last million years, that’s been largely true — not always true, but largely true, unfortunately or fortunately.”
“Who would say fortunately to describe the act of sexual assault?” Kaplan asked. “I know who,” she said. “Someone who thinks it’s a good thing that stars can grab women by the pussy. … He thinks stars like him can get away with it.”
Tacopina dismissed the significance of the tape, describing it as his client has — as “locker room talk.”
“It’s crude, it’s rude,” Tacopina said. “I’d knock my boy’s teeth out if he talked like that, honestly,” he added. “But that doesn’t make Ms. Carroll’s unbelievable story believable.”
Tacopina also said that contrary to Kaplan’s claim that the tape captures Trump discussing sexual assault, it instead shows Trump talking about “women letting you do something.”
“Two things can be true at the same time: You can think Donald Trump is a rude and crude person and that the story makes no sense,” he said, referring to Carroll’s claim. “Both things can be true.”
Do other Trump accusers prove a pattern, or are they unrelated?
Kaplan told the jury that the accounts of two other women, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff, who testified that Trump sexually assaulted them, demonstrate that Trump’s actions are part of a pattern of sexual assault.
“Three different women, decades apart, but one single pattern of behavior,” Kaplan said. She displayed a chart with photographs of Leeds, Stoynoff and Carroll accompanied by columns titled “semi-public place,” “grab suddenly” and “‘not my type,’” along with checkmarks. Trump has suggested all three women are not the sort to which he would typically be attracted.
Tacopina, however, said of the two women: “They have nothing to do with whether you should believe E. Jean Carroll’s unbelievable story.”
He cast doubt on Leeds’s story, saying it wasn’t credible that, as she claimed, a stranger — Trump — would have assaulted her on a plane while another passenger sat by and watched it happen.
Besides, Tacopina said of Leeds and Stoynoff, “they have no legal claim for you, the jury, to decide.”
How should Trump’s decision not to attend the trial reflect on him?
Carroll’s lawyers seized on Trump’s decision not to attend the trial, testify or put on a defense case.
Trump, Kaplan said, offered “no one to back up a single thing he said.”
“You only saw him on video,” she added. “He didn’t even bother to show up here in person.”
Ferrara went further. Trump, he said “didn’t come into the courtroom, didn’t take the witness stand, and you should conclude that’s because he did it. He raped Ms. Carroll, and he didn’t want to answer questions about it.”
Tacopina used what he described as Carroll’s vagaries about the date of the alleged incident to help explain why Trump didn’t offer any witnesses. “Who are we going to call, someone who wasn’t in Bergdorf Goodman at some unknown date?” Tacopina asked.
“What could I have asked Donald Trump?” he continued. “Where were you on some unknown date 27 or 28 years ago?”
Tacopina also told the jury that Carroll could have called his client as a witness, but chose not to. “Instead, what they want is for you to hate him enough to ignore the facts,” he said.
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