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In Trump trial over rape, defamation, another woman claims Trump accosted her

A woman who says Donald Trump silently molested her on an airliner in the late 1970s testified Tuesday in support of the writer who alleges that a flirtatious 1996 encounter with the future president ended in a violent sexual attack.

Jessica Leeds, 81, of Asheville, North Carolina, said Trump accosted her with what seemed like "40 zillion hands." She joined other witnesses who supported the testimony of E. Jean Carroll, a longtime advice columnist who publicly aired her claims against Trump in 2019, when she published a memoir. Trump has repeatedly denied the claims, saying Carroll lied to sell books and disparage him.

The witnesses were meant to support Carroll's testimony over three days ending Monday that Trump raped her in the dressing room of a luxury department store in midtown Manhattan.

Lisa Birnbach, a longtime friend of Carroll, testified that an emotional and hyperventilating Carroll telephoned her minutes after her encounter with Trump to report what occurred. She said she told Carroll that Carroll had been raped and urged her to go to the police, but Carroll refused, leading them to argue before Birnbach agreed never to speak of it again.

Leeds said she was in her late 30s and working in sales when she was invited by a flight attendant aboard a daytime flight from Dallas or Atlanta to New York to sit in the only empty aisle seat in the first-class cabin.

"The gentleman sitting by the window introduced himself as Donald Trump," she said.

Conversation between the pair was mostly forgettable, Leeds recalled, as they ate a nice meal, before "all of a sudden Trump decided to kiss me and grope me."

"There was no conversation. It was like out of the blue. It was like a tussle. He was trying to kiss me, trying to pull me towards him. He was grabbing my breasts. It was like he had 40 zillion hands. It was like a tussling match between the two of us," she recalled.

Leeds said the standoff ended when she realized no aircraft employees were coming to the rescue and Trump seemed to get more aggressive.

"It was when he started putting his hand up my skirt that gave me strength. I managed to wriggle out of my seat and storm back to my seat in coach. I don't think there was a word or a sound made by either one of us," she recalled.

Asked to describe how long the encounter took, Leeds said "it seemed like forever, but it probably was just a few seconds."

When the plane landed, Leeds recalled, she remained on the plane until everyone else had left to avoid running into Trump again. 

Leeds admitted in court that she is politically active. A Democrat living in North Carolina, she has donated to candidates including Sen. Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams, but not to Trump's 2016 presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina, during cross examination asked if Leeds had told her story when Trump ran for president in the hope that it would influence the election against him. Leeds said she had done so and later said that she does not want him to regain the presidency. 

The former president will not be appearing in court in this case, Tacopina informed the judge Tuesday. He said that the defense plans to call one witness virtually Thursday afternoon. Carroll's legal team has several more witnesses to call to the stand, including Carroll's sister, Candy Carroll.

The Associated Press typically does not name people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they come forward publicly, as Carroll and Leeds have done.

Clare Hymes contributed to this report.

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