What to know about the Donald Trump-E. Jean Carroll trial that is set to begin this month
By Becky Sullivan/NPR
On the heels of his historic indictment at the Manhattan criminal court, former President Donald Trump’s legal woes will soon begin another chapter with a civil trial set to kick off later this month.
This month’s trial concerns the allegations made in 2019 by the advice columnist and author E. Jean Carroll, who says Trump sexually assaulted her in the mid-1990s.
In 2019, then again in 2022, Carroll filed a pair of civil lawsuits over the incident, accusing Trump of defamation and battery, seeking unspecified damages.
The first of two trials is set to begin on April 25. Another trial that was also originally scheduled for April has been indefinitely postponed.
Here’s what to know about the upcoming trial:
What does Carroll allege?
The cases both center on the same incident, which allegedly took place at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan sometime in 1995 or 1996. At the time, Carroll was a recognizable magazine columnist and TV talk show personality.
According to Carroll’s complaint, the two had a chance run-in at the store, where Trump was shopping for a gift for “a girl.” He asked for her advice, and the two shopped together before he pushed her into a dressing room and raped her, she alleges.
After the incident, Carroll says she told two friends but ultimately did not go to the police. (Both women have since corroborated her account.)
For 20 years, she set the story aside, she says, worried that her reputation and career could be harmed by making the allegation public while consequences for Trump would be minimal.
But her view changed in 2016 and 2017, she says, as Trump was elected president and accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein broke into the public view.
“The walls that she had erected in her mind — the fear that Trump would emerge unscathed, the wariness of allowing him and his allies to come after her, the doubt that speaking up would actually matter, and the nagging anxiety that she was somehow to blame for being raped — began to crumble,” her lawsuit says.
Ultimately, her accusation was published in 2019 by New York Magazine as an excerpt of her memoir What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal. The book was published shortly after.
That summer, Trump denied the allegations and suggested that Carroll invented the story to sell more copies of her book.
“No pictures? No surveillance? No video? No reports? No sales attendants around?? I would like to thank Bergdorf Goodman for confirming they have no video footage of any such incident, because it never happened,” he said in a statement after the excerpt was published.
And he’s consistently repeated his denials in the years since. “I don’t know this woman, have no idea who she is,” he wrote in a statement posted to Truth Social last October. “And, while I am not supposed to say it, I will. This woman is not my type!”
Why are there two trials?
Simply put, there are two trials because there were two lawsuits that made separate claims.
Carroll first sued Trump in 2019 for defamation over his claims that year that he had never met her and that she had invented the story in order to increase sales of her book. (The trial for that case, which is referred to as “Carroll I” in court documents, has been postponed indefinitely.)
Then, lawmakers in New York opened a temporary one-year window to allow victims of past sexual assaults to bring their old claims to court. Carroll then filed a second lawsuit, which makes a new defamation claim over his statements in 2022 and adds a battery claim for the alleged assault itself. This case, called “Carroll II,” is the subject of the trial that begins this month.
In March, the parties — both Carroll and Trump — filed a motion requesting that the two cases be consolidated into a single trial. U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan denied that motion, meaning the cases are still separate.
Will the trial take place as scheduled in April?
It appears so. The court is currently in the process of preparing for jury selection. Lawyers on both sides have submitted proposals for jury questionnaires or jury instructions.
Potential jurors could face questions about their feelings about Trump, whether they have followed news of his criminal indictment, thoughts about his social media presence and whether the #MeToo movement has “impacted” their lives.
If proceedings go ahead for April 25 as scheduled, then jury selection would begin that day. The case is taking place in federal court at the Southern District of New York, meaning potential jurors are drawn from Manhattan, the Bronx, and a handful of suburban counties north of the city.
The jury, once selected, will be anonymous, Kaplan ordered last month. The court cannot “ignore the significant risk that jurors selected to serve in this case will be affected by concern that they could be targeted for unwanted media attention, outside pressure, and retaliation and harassment from persons unhappy with any verdict that might be returned,” Kaplan wrote.
Why has the other trial been postponed?
The other case — the one involving Trump’s 2019 statements — has been hung up on an important legal question: Was Trump acting in his capacity as president when he made those denials?
That’s important because government employees are generally protected from defamation claims. The U.S. Department of Justice has waded in on the side of the former president, arguing that it should replace Trump as the defendant in that case, which would effectively end the lawsuit.
If the court finds Trump was indeed acting in his role as president, then Carroll’s first lawsuit would effectively end. The question is now in the hands of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which held arguments in January. It’s not clear yet when a ruling will come.