Trump lawyer, E. Jean Carroll attorney duel over truth of rape claim against ex-president

Key Points
  • Closing arguments began in the civil trial in which Donald Trump is accused of raping writer E. Jean Carroll in a New York department store in the 1990s and later defaming her.
  • "You must hold him to account for what he's done," Carroll's lawyer Roberta Kaplan told jurors in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
  • Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also faces multiple criminal investigations.
Writer E. Jean Carroll arrives for her civil trial against former President Donald Trump at Manhattan's federal court in New York City, May 8, 2023.
Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

A lawyer for writer E. Jean Carroll told jurors Monday that Donald Trump followed a "playbook" he had for kissing and groping women without their consent before he raped Carroll in a New York department store dressing room in the mid-1990s.

"You must hold him to account for what he's done," Carroll's lawyer Roberta Kaplan said, as she delivered the closing argument to jurors in U.S. District Court in Manhattan for a civil trial, where Trump is accused of battery and of defaming the writer.

Trump's lawyer Joseph Tacopina, in his own summation, called Carroll's case "a scam," arguing that "the evidence of this case shows that what E. Jean Carroll has done is an affront to justice."

"She abused the system by bringing a false claim for money, status and political reasons," Tacopina said. "She is minimizing real rape and exploiting real pain and suffering and we cannot let her profit to the tune of millions of dollars."

The trial is taking place as Trump, the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, faces multiple criminal investigations.

About two dozen women have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years.

But Carroll's lawsuit, which was filed when he was the president, is the first such claim to go to trial. Two other women testified during the trial about Trump groping them in separate incidents years ago.

"When America voted for Trump, we all knew how he treated women," said Michael Ferrara, another lawyer for Carroll, in a rebuttal to Tacopina.

"America voted for him anyway," Ferrara said.

Kaplan, arguing that what happened to Carroll is part of a longstanding pattern of behavior by Trump, showed jurors a snippet of the "Access Hollywood" tape in which he boasted in 2005 about touching women without their consent.

"I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p---y. You can do anything," Trump said on the tape, recorded for an appearance on that entertainment show.

Kaplan told jurors: "What is he doing here? He is telling you in his own words his modus operandi, his M.O. ... he kissed them without their consent."

"The evidence shows overwhelmingly he followed this playbook and in the dressing room there grabbed [Carroll] by the p---y," she said.

In his deposition in the case, Trump told Kaplan that "unfortunately or fortunately," for "millions of years," stars had been able to sexually grope women without asking permission first.

Former Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll watches as former President Donald Trump's video deposition is played in court during a civil trial in which Carroll accuses Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s and of defamation, in New York, May 4, 2023, in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

"He actually used the word 'fortunately' describing sexual assault," Kaplan told jurors.

"Who would say, 'fortunately'? Someone who thinks they are a star," Kaplan said. "He thinks stars like him can get away with it."

Carroll testified earlier in the trial that the former president had raped her in a dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan after they had a chance encounter at that store.

Trump, 76, denies raping the now 79-year-old Carroll and has accused her of making up the story for political and financial reasons.

He also has repeatedly said Carroll is "not my type."

But Kaplan on Monday showed jurors a video of Trump's deposition taken last fall. He was asked about a photo of him, Carroll, her then-husband and Trump's then-wife Ivana Trump at an event from the 1980s.

"That's Marla," Trump says on that tape about the photo, identifying Carroll as his other ex-wife, Marla Maples.

Kaplan told jurors Monday: "He pointed to Ms. Carroll, who he says is not his type, and mistook her for Marla Maples."

Carroll "is exactly his type and he repeated it twice and only changed when his lawyer pointed it out," Kaplan said. "He made up an excuse for why he made a mistake, saying it was blurry, and you know it's not at all blurry ... E. Jean Carroll is a former cheerleader from Indiana, was exactly his type."

An image that was presented as an exhibit during the Carroll v. Trump civil trial, in which former Elle magazine advice columnist E. Jean Carroll accuses former President Donald Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room in the mid-1990s and of defamation, which was obtained by Reuters on May 5, 2023.
EJ Carroll Legal Team Handout | Via Reuters

Trump's lawyer Tacopina, in his summation, noted that "people have strong opinions about Donald Trump." But he argued they should act on those feelings at "the ballot box," not in deciding the merits of the case.

"Apply the facts of the law ... the rule of of law regardless of that defendant's name," Tacopina said.

"They want you to hate him enough to ignore the facts … focus on anything but the story," he said.

The defense lawyer scoffed at the idea that Trump, whom he called "one of New York's most famous people," would attack Carroll in a department store just down the street from his home in Trump Tower, and imperil his career in doing so.

"He goes to a department store and risks it all and hopes no one hears him banging someone against the wall?" Tacopina argued.

Tacopina also argued that Carroll "never planned on filing a lawsuit until George Conway got his hooks into her."

Carroll testified that after going public with her rape claim against Trump in a 2019 magazine article, the conservative lawyer Conway encouraged her to think "seriously" about suing the former president. The avowed Trump enemy Conway and his wife, former Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, jointly announced they were getting divorced in March.

"We are saying it didn't happen because it didn't happen," Tacopina said, referring to the rape claim.

"How do you prove a negative? How do you prove you didn't do it?" he said.

Trump, unlike Carroll, has not appeared in person for the trial.

The judge in the case had given Tacopina until Sunday afternoon to change his decision not to have Trump testify in his own defense. But that deadline passed without the lawyer telling the judge that Trump would take the stand Monday.

Trump was criminally charged last month by the Manhattan District Attorney for allegedly falsifying business records related to a 2016 hush money payment his then-lawyer made to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, before the election that year.

He has pleaded not guilty in that case.

Trump also faces multiple criminal investigations for his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, and in connection with failing to surrender government records, many of them classified, when he left the White House.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that E. Jean Carroll's lawyer Roberta Kaplan spoke during the closing argument to jurors in the civil trial. A previous version of the story misspelled Kaplan's name.