For decades, former President Donald Trump has seemed to shake off allegations, investigations and even impeachments. Now his “Teflon Don” reputation is about to face a new test: a jury of average citizens in a lawsuit accusing him of rape.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in a trial over former advice columnist’s E. Jean Carroll’s claim that Trump raped her nearly three decades ago in a department store dressing room. He denies it.
The trial is in a federal civil court, meaning that no matter the outcome, Trump isn’t in danger of going to jail. He isn’t required to be in court, either, and his lawyers have indicated he most likely won’t testify.
But the trial, which comes as Trump is again running for president, still has the potential to be politically damaging for the Republican. The jury is poised to hear a reprisal of stories of sexual misconduct that rocked his 2016 presidential campaign, allegations he claimed were falsehoods spun up to try to stop him from winning.
The trial also comes a month after he pleaded not guilty in an unrelated criminal case surrounding payments made to bury accounts of alleged extramarital sex.
Carroll is expected to testify about a chance encounter with Trump in late 1995 or early 1996 that she says turned violent.
She says that after running into the future president at Manhattan’s Bergdorf Goodman, he invited her to shop with him for a woman’s lingerie gift before they teased one another to try on a garment. Carroll says they ended up alone together in a store dressing room, where Trump pushed her against a wall and raped before she fought him off and fled.
Since Carroll first made her accusations in a 2019 memoir, Trump has vehemently denied that a rape ever occurred or that he even knew Carroll, a longtime columnist for Elle magazine.
Trump Calls Accuser ‘Nut Job’
Trump has labeled Carroll a “nut job” and “mentally sick.” He claimed she fabricated the rape claim to boost sales of her book.
Jurors are also 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 1979 flight on which the two were assigned neighboring seats. Natasha Stoynoff, a former People magazine staff writer, will testify that Trump pinned her against a wall and forcibly kissed her at his Florida mansion when she went there in 2005 to interview Trump and his then-pregnant wife Melania Trump.
Jurors will also see the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump is heard making misogynistic remarks about women, including an assertion that celebrities can grab, even sexually, women without asking.
Carroll’s allegations normally would be too old to bring to court. But in November, New York state enacted a law allowing for suits over decades-old sexual abuse claims.
The trial will also include a defamation claim that Carroll brought against Trump over disparaging remarks he made about her in response to the rape allegations.
The jurors’ names will be withheld from both the public and the lawyers, to protect them against possible harassment.
Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who will preside over the trial, rejected a request by Trump’s lawyers that jurors be told that the ex-president wanted to spare the city the disruption his presence might cause.
Kaplan noted that Trump has a New Hampshire campaign event scheduled for Thursday, the third day of the trial.
“If the Secret Service can protect him at that event, certainly the Secret Service, the Marshals Service, and the City of New York can see to his security in this very secure federal courthouse,” Kaplan wrote in an order.
Trump could still decide to attend the trial and testify. If he does not, the jury might be shown excerpts from his deposition, which was recorded on video.
On Monday, Kaplan instructed lawyers on both sides not to say anything in front of prospective jurors Tuesday about who is paying legal fees.
Earlier this month, the judge let Trump’s lawyers question Carroll for an extra hour after it was revealed that her lawyers had received funding from American Future Republic, an organization funded by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. In earlier questioning, Carroll said the lawyers were relying solely on contingency fees.
The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll, Leeds and Stoynoff have done.