Nine New Yorkers have been assigned the task of deciding if former President Donald Trump attacked and raped advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in a department store bathroom in the 1990s, and if he committed defamation against her after she went public with the allegation in 2019.
Carroll came forward with her story in 2019, alleging that Trump sexually assaulted her in a Bergdorf Goodman store in either 1995 or 1996. Trump denies the allegation.stems from a lawsuit filed in November 2022, after New York passed a law that eliminated for one year the statute of limitations for adults who claim they were sexually assaulted. A previous lawsuit filed by Carroll in 2019 is still pending.
During opening statements, Shawn Crowley, an attorney for Carroll, said Trump and Carroll bumped into each other at the department store, at first engaging in friendly, joking banter as they walked through the store.
"Hey, you're that advice lady," Trump allegedly said, according to Crowley. She said Carroll responded, "Hey, you're that real estate tycoon."
At some point, the two allegedly entered a dressing room, and Crowley said Trump "suddenly" pushed Carroll against a changing room wall, raped her, and then tried to ruin her reputation after she told the story in 2019.
"The whole attack would last just a few minutes, but it would stay with her forever," Crowley said.
Trump has denied the allegations and his attorney, Joe Tacopina, repeated that denial Tuesday.
"It all comes down to, do you believe the unbelievable?" Tacopina said, later adding, "He never raped her, and he never defamed her."
Tacopina said he intended to show that Carroll and two friends "colluded to get their stories straight" about the alleged incident.
The nine jurors, chosen from a pool of about 100, will be kept anonymous throughout the proceedings. Their identities will be unknown even to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan and the attorneys arguing the case. Each day they'll report to undisclosed locations where U.S. Marshals will meet them and drive them to the courthouse. They'll enter through a garage and be brought up to the courtroom on the 21st floor.
Kaplan told the jurors Tuesday morning that the unusual arrangement is to "protect all of you from unwanted attention, from harassment, from intimidation" that might arise from serving on a case involving a former president.
Kaplan advised, but did not order, the jurors to refrain from using their real names with each other.
"If you're Bill, you can be John for a few days," the judge said.
The jurors were selected after being asked dozens of questions about their political affiliations, knowledge of the case and parties, experience with sexual misconduct allegations and news consumption habits.
They were asked if their experiences with any of those issues could compromise their ability to be impartial. Very few potential jurors indicated they couldn't be fair, and none who did so were selected for the jury.
The process included questions about whether potential jurors had donated to the political campaigns of Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama or President Biden.
They were asked if they were associated with groups known for extremism, a list that included QAnon, Antifa, the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters and the Ku Klux Klan. None said yes. They were also asked if their opinion of the Me Too movement might affect their beliefs, or if they believe Trump is treated unfairly by the media. One person said yes to the latter, and was not selected.
Before potential jurors were brought in Tuesday, Kaplan instructed attorneys on both sides to advise their clients against making any statements "that might cause civil unrest." His instruction echoed similar ones given by a different judge on April 4, a block away in Manhattan Criminal Court, when Trump was arraigned on 34 state counts of felony falsification of business records counts unrelated to the Carroll case.
Trump strenuously denies all allegations in both cases.
It is unclear if Trump will attend any of the trial, an issue the judge brought up after excusing jurors Tuesday.
"The answer is I am not sure," Tacopina said. Kaplan said he'd need to know for sure by the end of the week, for logistical reasons associated with securing the building for a former president.
The trial comes as Trump is facing significant criminal and civil legal scrutiny. His Manhattan criminal court hearing marked the first time in U.S. history a former president was charged with a crime. The case is related to alleged business records fraud in connection with a 2016 "hush money" payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
On April 13, Trump sat for more than seven hours for a deposition in the New York attorney general's civil case against him, three of his children and their company. That office sued in September, alleging more than a decade of widespread fraud. It is seeking $250 million and sanctions designed to severely limit the company's operations.
In Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis has indicated she'll decide this summer whether to file charges stemming from an investigation into alleged efforts by Trump and more than a dozen of his allies to undermine the 2020 election results after he lost.
In Washington, D.C., special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing two Justice Department investigations into alleged efforts to interfere with the lawful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election, and Trump's handling of sensitive government documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, including possible obstruction of efforts to retrieve them.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases.
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