WASHINGTON — E. Jean Carroll, the advice columnist and author, has filed suit against Donald Trump, accusing the president of defaming her after she accused the president of raping her in a department store dressing room more than 20 years ago.
The suit alleges Trump lied in public statements he made when he responded to Carroll’s allegation — first published in June in New York magazine — and “smeared her integrity, honesty, and dignity,” causing her emotional pain and damage to her career.
Carroll’s complaint, filed by the prominent civil-rights attorney Roberta Kaplan in New York state court, says the writer seeks “to obtain redress for those injuries and to demonstrate that even a man as powerful as Trump can be held accountable under the rule of law.” In a statement, Carroll says: “No one, not even the President, is above the law. While I can no longer hold Donald Trump accountable for assaulting me more than twenty years ago, I can hold him accountable for lying about it and I fully intend to do so.”
In an email to Rolling Stone, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham called the lawsuit “frivolous.” “I guess since the book did not make any money she’s trying to get paid another way,” Grisham said. “The story she used to try and sell her trash book never happened, period. Her version of events is not even feasible if you’ve ever tried on clothing in a dressing room of a crowded department store. The lawsuit is frivolous and the story is a fraud — just like the author.”
Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s lawyer, tells Rolling Stone that Carroll is suing for defamation because the statute of limitations expired for the underlying alleged crime but not for Trump’s allegedly defamatory comments about her. “If she had published what she published [about the alleged rape by Trump] and he didn’t tell the lies that he told, she probably wouldn’t have a claim,” Kaplan says. “But then he went ahead and made defamatory statements about her.”
This is at least the second defamation suit filed against Trump by an alleged victim of sexual abuse. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, sued Trump in New York State court claiming Trump had defamed her by lying about multiple incidents of sexual misconduct, including unwanted kissing and groping. Lawyers for Trump said the suit should be paused or overturned because a sitting president can’t be sued, but a state appellate judge in March dismissed that argument and allowed the case to proceed. (Trump’s lawyers have said they plan to appeal the ruling to New York’s highest court.)
Carroll’s complaint recounts the sequence of events that appeared in her New York magazine cover story that first aired her rape allegation: That she bumped into Trump in the fall of 1995 or the spring of 1996 as she was leaving the Bergdorf Goodman department store. That Trump asked Carroll, whom he recognized as “that advice lady,” to help him pick out a gift for a female friend. That Trump took her to the lingerie section. That Trump — as her complaint describes it — took her into a dressing room, pushed her up against a wall, unzipped his pants, “pushed his fingers around Carroll’s genitals and forced his penis inside of her.”
In her complaint, Carroll says she stayed quiet about her alleged rape because she feared Trump would ruin her career and sue her into oblivion. As woman after woman stepped forward with similar allegations against during the 2016 presidential race, Carroll declined to come forward because her mother, a Republican Party official in her home state of Indiana, was ill and Carroll feared coming forward would “destroy her mother’s last happy days on the planet” and “cost her and her family dearly without actually changing anything.”
A year later, the New York Times broke the first story about Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual misconduct. (Weinstein has denied engaging in any non-consensual sexual acts.) The Times story “went off in Carroll’s mind like a bomb,” the complaint says. “She could not stop reading. Painful memories of abuse at the hands of men, including Trump, swept over her.” She decided to include her Trump rape allegation in a book she was writing, an excerpt of which went on to appear in New York magazine in June.
Trump responded to Carroll’s allegation by denying he’d ever met her, calling her a liar, and suggesting that she was working with the Democratic Party to falsely smear him. Even after he was presented with a photo showing him speaking with Carroll at an event, Trump said he didn’t know who she was and had never met her. He told reporters Carroll’s story was “a totally false accusation” and that he didn’t “know anything about her” while also claiming she’d made false rape accusations against others.
Carroll’s complaint says she has suffered “emotional pain and suffering at the hands of the man who raped her, as well as injury to her reputation, honor, and dignity.” It also alleges Trump’s lies have damaged her career as an advice columnist, causing her to “lose the support and goodwill of many of her readers.” In the period from July to September 2019, Carroll received half as many reader letters than she did in the same stretch of 2018. “Carroll is an advice columnist whose reputation is the very lifeblood of her trade,” the complaint says, “and Trump’s defamatory statements have therefore inflicted wide-ranging and substantial harm.”
Kaplan says the favorable rulings in the Zervos suit should help in Carroll’s case. “We believe that those decisions will be binding on this case as well,” she says. “I wouldn’t say we looked to it as a guide but it’s certainly similar to ours.” Speaking about Carroll’s suit, Kaplan adds: “Other than it involves someone who happens to be the president, it’s pretty straightforward.”