A federal jury was selected in New York on Tuesday, to hear evidence regarding the claim that Donald Trump raped the advice columnist E Jean Carroll nearly 30 years ago. Jurors then heard opening arguments from both sides.
Carroll alleges Trump pinned her against the wall of a New York department store changing room and sexually assaulted her in late 1995 or early the following year as they shopped together.
She brought the case last year under a New York law opening a one-year window for adult victims of sexual assault to file civil cases after the statute of limitations has expired.
Carroll did not comment to reporters when she arrived at the courthouse on Tuesday.
One of her lawyers, Shawn Crowley, told jurors she will testify that what unfolded in those few minutes in a fitting room “would change her life forever”.
“Filled with fear and shame, she kept silent for decades,” Crowley said. “Eventually, though, silence became impossible.”
When Carroll broke that silence in a 2019 memoir, Trump, then president, “used the most powerful platform on earth to lie about what he had done, attack Ms Carroll’s integrity and insult her appearance”, Crowley said.
The Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina painted Carroll’s story as “an affront to justice”, wildly implausible and short of evidence. He accused her of pursuing the case for money, status and political reasons.
“It all comes down to: do you believe the unbelievable?” Tacopina told the six-man, three-woman jury, urging the panel in heavily Democratic New York to put politics aside in weighing the case against the Republican former president and former New Yorker.
“You can hate Donald Trump,” Tacopina said. “That’s OK. But there’s a time and a secret place for that. It’s called a ballot box in an election. It’s not here in a court of law. Nobody’s above the law, but no one is beneath it.”
The case is so far the only one to come to court among more than a dozen allegations against Trump of rape, groping and other sexual assaults and misconduct.
Trump is not expected to attend the trial, after his lawyers said he would not testify. Carroll’s lawyers could put Trump on the stand but have said they do not intend to do so.
Trump’s lawyers proposed to ask potential jurors if they thought “the #MeToo movement has gone too far” and about their views of sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh during his appointment to the supreme court.
Carroll’s lawyers sought to identify potential jurors who followed Trump on his platform, Truth Social. They also wanted to ask if any believed Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen.
The jury was chosen after questioning about their news-watching habits and more. They were asked if they made political donations, supported right- or leftwing groups, used Truth Social, read Carroll’s former column in Elle magazine, if they had seen Trump’s former reality show, The Apprentice, and whether these and other matters would make it difficult to be fair.
The judge, Lewis A Kaplan, ordered members of the jury not be identified because of the “significant risk” they could be subject to pressure and targeted for “retaliation and harassment”.
Ranging in age from 26 to 66, the jury includes a janitor, a physical therapist and people who work in security, healthcare collections, a library and a high school.
They are expected to hear from two other women who say they were sexually assaulted by Trump.
Jessica Leeds is set to testify that Trump tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight in 1979. Natasha Stoynoff, a former People magazine writer, will testify that Trump pinned her against a wall and kissed her at his Florida mansion when she went there in 2005 to interview him and his then pregnant third wife, Melania Trump.
Jurors will also see the 2005 Access Hollywood video in which Trump is heard making misogynistic remarks, including claiming to grab women by the genitals.
Carroll accuses Trump of assaulting her at the Bergdorf Goodman store after he asked for help choosing a present for a friend. She said he pressured her to try on a see-through bodysuit then entered the dressing room with her. Carroll said she pushed him away after he forcibly kissed her.
“Then he pressed her against the wall once more, pulled down her tights, and forcibly raped her for several minutes until she managed to push him off and fled the store,” her lawsuit states.
Among witnesses expected to be called by Carroll are two women who say she swiftly told them about the alleged assault, Lisa Birnbach and Carol Martin, who have corroborated her account.
Carroll said she did not file a complaint with police because she “was in shock and did not wish to think of herself as a rape victim”. She said Martin advised her to “keep quiet” because Trump was a powerful businessman who would “bury” her.
Carroll changed her mind when Trump was elected president in 2016 and after accusations against the film producer Harvey Weinstein that led to the #MeToo movement. She wrote a book, What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal, detailing abuse by men including Trump. Excerpts were published in New York magazine.
Trump called the allegations “a complete con job” and said Carroll’s book “should be sold in the fiction section”.
“She completely made up a story that I met her at the doors of this crowded New York City department store and, within minutes, ‘swooned’ her. It is a hoax and a lie,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Carroll has two cases against Trump. The first accuses him of libeling her when he denied her accusations. That case has yet to come to trial.
The Associated Press contributed reporting
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