A friend of writer E. Jean Carroll, testifying Tuesday in Carroll’s civil defamation and battery case against former President Donald Trump, said that Carroll called her and described the alleged attack minutes after alleged assault took place.
Carroll, who brought the lawsuit in November, alleges that Trump defamed her in a 2022 Truth Social post by calling her allegations “a Hoax and a lie” and saying “This woman is not my type!” when he denied her claim that Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in the 1990s.
She added a charge of battery under a recently adopted New York law that allows adult survivors of sexual abuse to sue their alleged attacker regardless of the statute of limitations. Trump has denied all allegations that he raped Carroll or defamed her.
Lisa Birnbach, a writer, was the first person Carroll said she told about the alleged attack, “five to seven minutes” after the alleged assault occurred, Birnbach said.
“She told me that Donald Trump recognized her outside or right in the doorway of Bergdorf Goodman, he asked her to help him shop, and assaulted her upstairs in a dressing room,” Birnbach testified.
Birnbach testified that she “thought it was kind of nutty” for Carroll to go to the lingerie department with Trump, but she did not think it was dangerous.
“I had just spent a few days with him,” Birnbach said of Trump, referring to two days she spent at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate for a Feb. 12, 1996, piece she wrote for New York magazine. “He didn’t strike me as dangerous.”
Birnbach described the alleged assault as she said Carroll relayed it to her, saying, “He slammed his whole arm, pinned her against the wall with his arm and shoulders and with his free hand pulled down her tights.”
“And E. Jean said to me many times, ‘He pulled down my tights, he pulled down my tights.’ Almost like she couldn’t believe it had just happened to her,” Birnbach said.
“As soon as she said that, even though I knew my children didn’t know the word, I ducked out of the room and I whispered ‘E. Jean, he raped you, you should go to the police,'” Birnbach testified.
“She said, ‘No, no I don’t want to go to the police,'” Birnbach told the jury, saying that Carroll made her promise that “‘you will never speak of this again and promise me that you will tell no one.’ And I promised her both those things.”
In earlier testimony, Carroll described being in somewhat of a stupor when she called Birnbach after leaving the department store, laughing as she relayed her alleged encounter with Trump. It was Birnbach, Carroll said, who told her to stop laughing because she had been raped.
“And even when Lisa said it, it took a real effort for me to take it in,” Carroll testified. “Lisa is the one who focused my brain for that moment. It was Lisa saying that.”
Birnbach said the account that Carroll gave when she went public with the accusation in her 2019 book matched what Carroll told her in the spring of 1996.
“After I read the excerpt, I called E. Jean and told her how brave she was and what a good piece it was,” Birnbach said.
“She’s not a victim,” Birnbach said. “She doesn’t want anybody’s pity. She is somebody who, and I think it’s the way she was raised, instead of wallowing, she puts on lipstick, dusts herself off, and moves on. I think that’s how she has gotten through her life.”
Birnbach told the jury that she supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, was “surprised and upset” Trump won, and, on her podcast, called Trump a “narcissistic sociopath” who is “an infection like herpes that we can’t get rid of.”
But, she said, she was only testifying “because my friend, my good friend, who is a good person, told me something terrible that happened to her. As a result she lost her employment and her life became very, very difficult. I am here because I want the world to know that she was telling the truth.”
The defense has said that Carroll was motivated by “political reasons” to publish her allegation against Trump and, subsequently, sue him for defamation and battery. In its cross-examination of Birnbach, the defense questioned her about unflattering things she has said about Trump online and on various podcasts.
“Do you recall saying in a Facebook post the following: ‘Does it get worse than Donald Trump? I’ll tell you in my entire life I’ve never felt a hatred like a feel toward this person,'” defense attorney Perry Brandt asked Birnbach. He asked if, on a podcast, she said, “President Trump, and I don’t like to use those two words together.” On a different podcast, he asked if she said of Trump, “He’s a madman. He’s a narcissistic sociopath. He’s a malignant sociopath. He’s a Russian agent. He’s bad, he’s bad, and God knows what he can do before he leaves.”
Birnbach testified that all of those things sound like something she would have said.
On re-direct, Carroll’s attorney, Shawn Crowley, asked Birnbach, “When Ms. Carroll had called you in 1996 and told you he had just assaulted her, was he a political figure?” Birnbach replied, “Not at all.”
“Donald Trump in 1996 was a well-known New York person,” Birnbach said. “He was not in politics. He was not near politics. He was a guy who liked publicity and attention and he was also a known womanizer. My friend wasn’t raped by a president. She was assaulted by a guy, a real estate guy.”
“Would you lie to prevent Donald Trump from being president?” Crowley asked.
“Never,” Birnbach replied.
Carroll’s attorneys are also expected to call Jessica Leeds, a businesswoman who alleges that Trump groped her on an airplane in 1979. Leeds first told her story to The New York Times just before the 2016 election. She is one of two women whom the court ruled are allowed to testify about prior alleged assaults by Trump, as Carroll’s attorneys try to show a pattern of alleged behavior that Trump has long denied.
“The evidence will show that Donald Trump assaulted Jessica Leeds on an airplane in 1979,” Carroll’s attorney, Shawn Crowley, told the jury last week during opening statements. “She was seated next to him in the first class cabin. After they made small talk and finished their meals, Trump lunged at her, he pressed his body against her, tried to kiss her, grabbed her breasts, and started to put his hand up her skirt, exactly as he did to Ms. Carroll.”
Trump has denied the allegations.
“Like Ms. Carroll, for a very long time, she didn’t tell a soul what happened,” Crowley said of Leeds. “She didn’t want to risk losing her job or being humiliated for coming forward. But in 2016, Ms. Leeds watched the presidential debate and she heard Donald Trump say that he had never kissed a woman without her consent. She knew she couldn’t stay silent any longer.”
“After Ms. Leeds spoke publicly, Trump attacked her. He called her a liar. He told the world that she was not his type. Sound familiar?” Crowley said.
On Monday, under cross examination by defense attorney Joe Tacopina, Carroll said she didn’t contact police after she was allegedly attacked by Trump because, as a woman born in the 1940s, she’s a member of the “silent generation” that didn’t speak up about such things. The exchange came after Tacopina introduced several of her advice columns for Elle magazine in which she suggested that her readers call police in the event of a sexual assault or threat.
“There were numerous times where you’ve advised your readers to call the police” despite Carroll never reporting her own alleged rape to police, Tacopina said to Carroll.
“In most cases I advised my readers to go to the police,” Carroll replied.
“I was born in 1943,” she said. “I am a member of the silent generation. Women like me were taught to keep our chins up and not complain. The fact that I never went to the police is not surprising for someone my age. I would rather have done anything than call the police.”
The answer was stricken from the record as nonresponsive to the question posed, but the exchange continued the defense’s questioning of Carroll’s actions following the alleged assault, and their suggestions that her behavior — not going to the police, not seeking security camera footage, continuing to shop at Bergdorf’s — is at odds with how other sex assault victims might behave.
The nine-member jury of six men and three women is weighing Carroll’s defamation and battery claims and deciding potential monetary damages.
Carroll’s lawsuit is her second against Trump related to her rape allegation.
She previously sued Trump in 2019 after the then-president denied her rape claim by telling The Hill that Carroll was “totally lying,” saying, “I’ll say it with great respect: No. 1, she’s not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, OK?” That defamation suit has been caught in a procedural back-and-forth over the question of whether Trump, as president, was acting in his official capacity as an employee of the federal government when he made those remarks.
If Trump is determined to have been acting as a government employee, the U.S. government would substitute as the defendant in that suit — which means that case would go away, since the government cannot be sued for defamation.
This month’s trial is taking place as Trump seeks the White House for a third time, while facing numerous legal challenges related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, his handling of classified material after leaving the White House, and possible attempts to interfere in Georgia’s 2020 vote. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said last week she would decide whether to file criminal charges against Trump or his allies this summer.