Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic descriptions of an alleged assault.
Former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll took the stand Wednesday in her battery and defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump, testifying in chilling detail about the alleged sexual assault by the former president in a New York City department store.
“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen,” Carroll testified. “He lied and shattered my reputation and I’m here to try to get my life back.”
Carroll is suing Trump for battery and defamation, alleging that he raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the spring of 1996 and then defamed her years later when she went public with the allegations. Trump has repeatedly denied her allegations.
On the stand, Carroll recalled being “delighted” to be shopping with Trump, thinking it’d be a great story to tell friends.
“Well, it was such a funny New York scene,” Carroll said she thought at the time. “I love to give advice and here was Donald Trump asking me for advice about buying a present.”
She was not at all fearful of Trump, who was friendly and very funny. “I was absolutely enchanted, I could only think of it as a scene that is such a great story,” Carroll said.
The tone of their conversation was “very joshing and light” as they moved through the store.
Carroll was too focused on Trump to notice anyone else once they took the escalator from the first floor, she testified.
“I wasn’t looking, I was watching him and watching that I didn’t fall when the escalator hit the top.”
Carroll recalled she was probably flirting with Trump the whole time before the alleged assault, not thinking it was intimate or serious.
When the two made their way to the lingerie department, Carroll said the “comedy was escalating” but it never occurred to her that Trump might try to rape her.
Zeroing in on a sheer gray bodysuit, Trump told Carroll to try it on, she said. She jokingly told him he should try it on instead.
Carroll had no intention to try on the lingerie, she testified Wednesday, but followed Trump’s gesture into the dressing room thinking the moment could be a funny “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
“I didn’t picture anything about what was about to happen,” she said Wednesday. “That open door has plagued me for years because I just walked into it, walked in.”
Carroll recounted how Trump allegedly shoved her against the wall despite her struggles and eventually inserted his fingers and then his penis inside her.
She recalled the pain she felt in the back of her head and her vagina.
Growing emotional on the stand, Carroll took a long pause as her attorney asked what she did after Trump allegedly forced himself inside her.
“When you ask me what I did in that moment,” Carroll said, stuttering through tears, “I always think – I always think of why I walked in there to get myself in that situation. But I’m proud to say I did get out, I got my knee up and pushed him back.”
Carroll was worried about retaliation if she went public
Carroll said Trump’s alleged assault only lasted a few minutes, and that her adrenaline didn’t give her time to be afraid.
“This is going to sound strange: I was almost too frightened to think if I was afraid or not, I was stamping (my feet),” she said. “My whole reason for being alive in that moment was to get out of that room.”
“It was very stupid,” Carroll said on the stand, choking up. “It changed – I know people have been through a lot worse than this but it had – it left me – it left me unable to ever have a romantic life again.”
Carroll recalled lingering pain and that it took her awhile to calm down that night, though acknowledged she didn’t seek medical attention. “I was extremely rattled, I didn’t know who I was, I couldn’t believe that it happened, I couldn’t believe that it happened to me,” she said.
Carroll testified that she called her friend Lisa Birnbach when she left the store because Birnbach, she said, was the funniest woman she knew.
“If Lisa thought it was funny then it was not a bad thing and I didn’t completely do a stupid thing,” Carroll recalled thinking. “I had not processed it. I had not processed what was going on.”
Birnbach told Carroll, who was laughing on the phone, that it wasn’t funny, that Carroll was raped and should report the assault to the police, Carroll testified.
Carroll testified that they eventually agreed never to talk about it again and that she felt ashamed of what she alleged happened with Trump. “Because I was flirting with him and laughing having one of the great times and it was high comedy, it was funny and then to have it turned into that,” Carroll said.
The next day at the studio where her TV show was filmed at the time, Carroll recalled seeing another friend, Carol Martin, in whome she later confided. Agreeing that they couldn’t speak plainly at work, Carroll told Martin about the incident with Trump later that night at Martin’s home.
Martin warned Carroll never to report her story or even talk about it because Trump would “bury” her with his legal team.
Carroll agreed with Martin. “I was frightened of Donald Trump. I thought he would retaliate and I was ashamed. I thought it was my fault,” she said.
‘Not settling a political score’
Carroll acknowledged she is a registered Democrat and thinks Trump is “evil” and “vile” and was a terrible president, but testified that her political views have nothing to do with her pursuit of this lawsuit.
“I’m not settling a political score,” Carroll said. “I’m settling a personal score because he called me a liar repeatedly and it really has decimated my reputation. I’m a journalist – the one thing I have to have is the trust of the readers.”
Carroll’s attorney Michael Ferrara asked why she didn’t go public with her allegations when Trump first ran for president.
“I noticed that the more women who came forward to accuse him, the better he did in the polls,” she said.
Testimony from former store manager
Before Carroll took the stand, former Bergdorf Goodman Women’s Store Manager Cheryl Beall testified for under an hour as Carroll’s first witness in the civil trial.
Beall worked at the luxury department store for a decade until about 1998, and had an office on the sixth floor adjacent to the lingerie department where Carroll has alleged Trump raped her.
She walked the jury through a floor plan of the sixth floor from the relevant time period, describing the layout and fitting rooms on that floor as a wooden-walled room with walls that met the ceiling. The fitting room door locked automatically when closed, she testified.
Beall said the store had a practice of keeping fitting room doors closed while not in use, but they’d “regularly” be left open.
Bergdorf Goodman scheduled at least one person to monitor each department at all times but it was not uncommon that the area on the sixth floor would be left unmanned, especially on a slow evening, Beall said.
This story has been updated with additional details.