As former President Donald Trump solidifies his support among Republicans for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, a civil trial underway in federal court in Manhattan will adjudicate whether next year’s presumptive Republican presidential nominee is a rapist.
Writer E. Jean Carroll has sued Trump for battery and defamation. The battery claim is based on Carroll’s charge that Trump sexually assaulted her; the alleged defamation arises from Trump’s accusations that she is lying. There is really only one question that the jury, which began hearing testimony last week, will have to answer: did Trump rape Carroll or didn’t he?
Carroll provided a highly detailed account of what she maintains Trump did: where she was, what transpired in the minutes preceding the alleged assault and precisely what she contends occurred in a dressing room in the lingerie department of a fashionable New York department store.
Trump’s lawyers have a few arrows in their quiver. An event as shocking and traumatic as the one Carroll describes, they argue, would be sufficiently memorable that the victim would remember when it occurred — if not the date, then at least the week, if not the week, then at least the month, and if not the month, then at least the year. Carroll cannot do this, and there will be jurors for whom that’s a problem.
Then there’s the evidence of the potential motivations for Carroll’s allegation, which Trump’s team hopes will make jurors doubt her. Carroll has made few bones about despising Trump and opposing his presidential candidacies. But it isn’t hard to imagine why the victim of a violent sexual assault might have a misgiving or two about electing the man who committed the assault the leader of the free world.
Then there’s Carroll’s admission that she hoped that her charge that Trump raped her would help her sell her book. Her comeback that it unfortunately did not turn out that way didn’t exactly dilute the point.
Trump argues that it’s odd that Carroll would stay silent as long as she did about the assault she asserts took place. His problem is that it isn’t. There are obvious reasons for sexual assault victims to stay silent for decades, if not a lifetime, and it happens all the time. And where the man on the other end is tremendously wealthy, with battalions of lawyers at his disposal regularly deployed by him to file frivolous lawsuits for sport, why Carroll would have chosen to keep private what occurred is not difficult to understand.
If Carroll’s lawyers have some minor headaches, Trump’s have migraines, beginning with their client’s refusal even to show up to tell the jury that he denies Carroll’s testimony. This isn’t a case of “She said, he said,” so much as one of “She said, and he headed for the hills.” It is reasonable for jurors to infer that if Trump isn’t willing to appear to deny Carroll’s claim, there’s a reason, and not one that reflects favorably on his case.
The cross-examination of Trump would have been a bloodbath, and the bloodletting would have gone on for quite a long while. For starters, jurors will be shown the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape, wherein a decade after Carroll claims Trump decided he could do whatever he wanted to do to her, Trump bragged that that is what he had always done, and he was damned proud of it. This is Trump himself on Trump assaulting women as he pleased: “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the (private parts). You can do anything.”
There’s a Latin term that every first-year law student learns about evidence that is self-explanatory: “Res ipsa loquitur,” or “The thing speaks for itself.” Coupled with Carroll’s testimony and Trump’s absence from the courtroom in which he might have been expected to defend himself if Carroll’s charge was untrue, Trump’s own braggadocio seems likely to speak for itself. And if it does, the former president is headed for an unpleasant verdict.