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5 things to know as E. Jean Carroll's civil trial begins against Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump faces a lawsuit from E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist who says he raped her in a department store in the mid-1990s. Trump denies the allegations.
Scott Olson/Getty Images; Alec Tabak/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump faces a lawsuit from E. Jean Carroll, an advice columnist who says he raped her in a department store in the mid-1990s. Trump denies the allegations.

NEW YORK — Jury selection begins Tuesday in the sexual assault and defamation civil suit brought against former President Donald Trump by the writer E. Jean Carroll. Late last year, Carroll accused Trump of "causing significant pain and suffering, lasting psychological harms, loss of dignity, and invasion of her privacy." Trump's lawyers argue that the statute under which Carroll brought the assault claim violates due process, and call the defamation claim "baseless."

What is the core of this suit?

Carroll claims Trump raped her in the changing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan in the 1990s.

"As a result of the pain and suffering caused by Trump's sexual assault, Carroll has not been able to sustain a romantic relationship since the day Trump raped her," Carroll's suit claims, adding that she has been unable to have sexual or romantic relationships with men since that day.

Trump's lawyers are expected to argue that Carroll's nearly 30-year old claims cannot be proved, and that Carroll was motivated by the potential for book sales and publicity.

Didn't Carroll already have a suit against Trump? What makes this one different?

Carroll has sued Trump twice so far, and both matters are still active.

The first suit came in November 2019, and alleges defamation. After Carroll published an article in New York magazine, recounting the alleged rape, Trump responded, saying that Carroll was lying and going on to observe that "she's not my type." This suit was quickly tied up in disputes about the proper role of the Department of Justice in defending the then-president. It has still not gone to trial.

The second suit was filed in November 2022, under New York's Adult Survivors Act, which opened a one-year window for people alleging sexual assault to bring civil claims older than would otherwise be allowable under the statute of limitations. Like the first suit, the second one contains a defamation claim. Because Trump was no longer president at the time the claim was filed, it has proceeded quickly to trial.

What can we expect from the trial?

E. Jean Carroll — who shared her story publicly in a book, and in broadcast interviews — will recount her version of events under oath.

Carroll's lawyers have said they may produce a number of witnesses to bolster their client's claims, including Bergdorf Goodman staffers, two friends in whom Carroll confided not long after the alleged rape, and two women who have publicly claimed Trump sexually assaulted them, Natasha Stoynoff and Jessica Leeds.

The Carroll team may also show jurors excerpts from the "Access Hollywood" video in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women (he claimed the statement was "locker room talk" not meant in earnest).

And they plan to share excerpts from a deposition they did of Trump last year.

Trump's team says it may call Dr. Edgar Nace, a psychiatrist, and Trump himself. It is unclear whether the former president will attend the trial if he does not take the stand.

What are the stakes in this case, for Trump and for Carroll?

This is a civil case, so even if a jury finds in Carroll's favor, Trump would not be considered a criminal rapist under the law. Nevertheless, it could be seen as a form of accountability long sought not only by Carroll, but by many women who have claimed Trump sexually assaulted or inappropriately touched them.

Carroll is asking for unspecified damages, and demanding that Trump retract an allegedly defamatory statement about her. Damages could run to tens of millions of dollars.

How soon could this be decided?

The trial is expected to last about a week.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Ilya Marritz
Andrea Bernstein