Donald Trump faces fresh woes as trial over alleged rape in Manhattan department store looms

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It’s not just questions about tax returns and accusations of insurrection that swirl around Donald Trump. Violence – sexual violence – is another of the claims against which the twice-impeached former president must defend himself.

Writer E Jean Carroll’s civil rape and defamation trial against Trump will now proceed on Tuesday, after his legal team failed in a bid to delay it.

Trump’s lawyers had argued that in order for the mogul to receive a fair trial, he needed more time for the recent fuss over his Stormy Daniels hush payments to die down, so that potential jurors would not be unduly biased against him.

Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New Yorkswiftly kicked that argument out of court. He noted that given the slew of criminal charges coming Trump’s way, now was as good a time as any for the new trial.

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The judge also appeared to take umbrage at the inappropriate – but perhaps, inadvertently revealing – way Trump appeared to equate the claim he slept with Daniels and the accusation that he raped Carroll (he has denied both).

Carroll, a former magazine writer, alleges Trump raped her in the dressing room in the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan in 1995 or 1996 after a chance encounter in the store. She first sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after he denied the rape, said “she’s not my type” and alleged she made the claim to boost sales of her book.

Carroll brought that lawsuit against Trump last November, after New York passed the Adult Survivors Act. This allows people alleging sexual assault to bring civil claims years after the attack.

Carroll said that Trump continued his defamatory statements on his social media platform, Truth Social, after leaving the White House.

“It is a hoax and a lie, just like all the other hoaxes that have been played on me for the past seven years. And, while I am not supposed to say it, I will. This woman is not my type!” Trump said in 2022.

Another defamation trial that had been due to start on 10 April, to test whether Trump defamed Carroll, has been stayed, with the judge citing separate legal battles that will decide whether Trump can be sued for comments he made while president. He firmly denies any wrongdoing.

Carroll’s rape allegation is certainly serious, and a jury will assess its truth or falsity on the evidence that they see and hear. Trump could be found not to be liable. But putting that issue to one side, it has to be conceded that Trump has form for displaying unacceptable behaviour towards the opposite sex.

He has frequently described women who’ve crossed him with terms such as “crazed”, “dog”, or “pig,” and famously referred to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman”.

In 1991, Donald Trump planted a story in the New York Post that he was dating Italian supermodel (and future first lady of France) Carla Bruni.

“Trump is obviously a lunatic,” Bruni said of the story in an interview with the Daily Mail later that year. “It’s so untrue and I’m deeply embarrassed by it all. I’ve only ever met him once, about a year ago, at a big charity party in New York. And I haven’t seen him since, of that, I’m sure.”

Trump later dismissed Bruni as flat-chested during a radio interview.

In a 2016, a recording (taken 12 years earlier) from the television show Access Hollywood emerged in which Trump is heard bragging about his predilection for groping women. “Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything,” he can be heard saying. Trump dismissed this comment as “locker room talk”.

Summer Zervos, an ex-contestant on The Apprentice reality show, fronted by Trump, claimed he had groped her. She sued him for defamation in January 2017 after he dismissed allegations of misconduct against him as “lies”. Mr Trump was seeking to countersue her for infringing his free speech rights. She dropped the case against him in November 2021.

People magazine’s Natasha Stoynoff has said Trump attacked her at his Mar-a-Lago property in 2005 after a photoshoot. His response: “Look at her…I don’t think so.”

Jill Harth, a make-up artist, stayed quiet for almost 20 years about the way Trump pursued her, and – according to a lawsuit she instigated – cornered her and groped her in his daughter Ivanka’s bedroom. After Trump mounted his campaign for the White House in 2016, details emerged of the 1997 complaint, in which Harth accused him of “attempted rape”.

Trump denied all these allegations, too.

Carroll’s claims are unique so far, in that they will have their day in court, albeit in a civil case.

The risk of taking on powerful people, with millions of unstinting and, in some cases, violent followers, has been underlined by the Judge Kaplan’s decision that the Carroll vs Trump case will be heard by an unusual anonymous jury – something usually stipulated only for criminal cases involving terrorists or mobsters. Even Trump’s lawyers will not have access to the jurors’ names.

Announcing the decision, Kaplan cited Trump’s encouragement of the 6 January 2020 Capitol rioters and his calls last month for his Maga supporters to “take our country back” in the face of what was then a potential indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s grand jury. Judge Caplan reiterated this on Monday.

Reports of the pressure and abuses faced by women who stand up to Trump’s bullying are numerous.

Daniels does not say that Trump raped her. Rather, the porn star received “hush payments” of $130,000 from Trump via his then-fixer Michael Cohen during the 2016 presidential election, apparently to keep her quiet and avoid the embarrassing scandal about their affair for the married presidential candidate. The events are at the heart of a separate indictment of Trump made by the Manhattan district attorney Bragg. But Daniels says it didn’t end there after the truth emerged.

“I’m tired of being threatened,” Daniels told the hosts of The View in April 2018, of Trump and his various associates. “And intimidating me and trying to say that you’ll ruin my life and take all of my money and my house or whatever — I’m sorry, I’m done. I’m done being bullied.” She later wrote in her book, Full Disclosure, that that was the time the “death threats against me and my family started ratcheting up”.

It emerged on Wednesday that Trump had decided not to appear at the trial due to start on Monday. With typical chutzpah, the ex-president called on the judge to let it be known he was doing so out of consideration for the New York public, fearing his presence might cause a commotion – a concern he didn’t voice during fears his supporters might rampage in New York last month after his indictment in the Daniels hush money case.

His lawyer, Joe Tacopina, said Trump had decided not to attend because of “the logistical burdens that his presence, as the former president, would cause the courthouse and New York City”.

This drew a caustic response from Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan (unrelated to the judge), who noted that Trump had time to attend cage fighting events and NRA gun meetings but not a rape trial in which he was the defendant.

“He has the right to decline to appear at trial,” she said. “However, the notion that Mr Trump would not appear as some sort of favour to the city of New York, and that the jury should be instructed as such taxes the credulity of the credulous.”

Jill Thompson, a North America spokeswoman for the women’s campaign group Equality Now, told i Carroll’s case was carrying the hopes of millions of US women.

“Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments and treatment of women is well documented. What is surprising and disappointing is how many Americans don’t care or choose to ignore it,” she said.

“We’re very glad to see Ms Carroll’s civil case moving forward and hope it will lead to some level of accountability. How many times have we seen high-profile wealthy men in America abuse and degrade women with relative impunity?”

But she added: “What I fear is that this case will end up like too many others, where the abuser gets away with violence and the survivor is punished for speaking up.”

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