Trump Jury Hears From Woman Who Claims 1970s Assault on Airplane
(Bloomberg) -- A woman who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault just ahead of the 2016 election took the witness stand in the trial of E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit against the former president.
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Jessica Leeds, a retired stockbroker, claims Trump groped her on a flight to New York in 1979. She was called as a witness on Tuesday by Carroll’s lawyers to illustrate for the jury what they say is Trump’s history of sexually attacking women.
Leeds, who was a traveling saleswoman for a newsprint company at the time of the alleged attack, told the jurors that a “tussle” took place not long after she accepted a midflight offer from a flight attendant to move from coach to first class. Her new seat was next to Trump, she said.
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“All of a sudden Donald Trump decided to kiss me and grope me,” Leeds, who was then 37, said under questioning by Carroll’s lawyer. “There was no conversation — it was like out of the blue.”
Carroll, a former advice columnist with Elle magazine, claims Trump raped her in a dressing room of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1996. She sued last year under a New York law that temporarily lifts the statute of limitations on assault claims that are decades old.
Trump, 76, has denied assaulting Carroll or any of the other women who have made accusations against him. He says Carroll’s lawsuit, like all the cases and probes he faces, is part of a politically motivated effort to undermine his campaign to return to the White House in 2024.
After the jury left for the day on Tuesday afternoon, Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina told the judge his client had decided not to testify.
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In her testimony, Leeds said she didn’t shout for help even as Trump pulled her toward him, grabbed her breasts and tried to kiss her in what she described as a “tussling match between the two of us.” She told the court she found the “jolt of strength” to wriggle away from Trump and flee back to coach only after he started moving his hand up her skirt.
Men ‘Could Get Away With a Lot’
Leeds said she can’t explain why she didn’t cry out. She testified that she waited for all of the other passengers to leave the aircraft before getting off, to avoid running into Trump in the terminal. She said she didn’t report Trump to airline personnel or to the police.
“I just got in my car and drove home,” she told the jury. “I did not tell anybody at work because I did not think they would be interested in my experience.” She added that “men basically could get away with a lot” back then.
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Leeds, who lives in Asheville, North Carolina, testified that she kept the alleged incident to herself until 2016, when Trump was running for president. Her decision to go public led to an article in the New York Times and an appearance on Anderson Cooper’s TV show.
“I told anybody and everybody who would listen to me,” she said. “Because I thought that he was not the kind of person that we wanted as president.”
Almost all the jurors had their chairs swiveled directly at Leeds, listening intently as she spoke.
‘She Would Not Be My First Choice’
At one point the jury heard tape of Trump mocking a then-recent allegation that he had attacked a woman on a plane.
“Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” he said at a rally after Leeds’s allegation became public. “That would not be my first choice.”
During her cross-examination by Tacopina, Leeds repeatedly explained why she didn’t scream and defended her decision not to tell her employer about what allegedly happened. If she had done so, she said, it would have been more likely for her boss to ask her out to lunch than to express any concern about it.
Earlier on Tuesday, one of Carroll’s closest friends testified that the author called her within minutes of the alleged 1996 department store assault to describe the incident in detail. Lisa Birnbach, known for her best-selling 1980 tome The Official Preppy Handbook, told the jurors that Carroll called from her mobile phone to say Trump had just attacked her in the lingerie department after they decided on a whim to shop together.
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“Lisa, you’re not going to believe what happened to me,” Birnbach recalled Carroll saying. She described Carroll as “breathless, hyperventilating, emotional” during the phone call. “Her voice was doing all kinds of things.”
Birnbach said Carroll described being sexually assaulted by Trump after he violently shoved her against a wall and held her there with the weight of his body. Carroll was reluctant to accept that she had been raped, Birnbach said. She said she encouraged Carroll to report the attack.
“E. Jean said to me many times, ‘He pulled down my tights, he pulled down my tights,’” Birnbach said under questioning by Carroll’s lawyer. “She was just processing it and it had just happened to her.”
“He raped you,” Birnbach said she told Carroll. “You should go to the police.”
Carroll refused and swore Birnbach to secrecy, she said. Birnbach told the jury she never discussed the alleged attack again with Carroll until 2019.
‘Never Tell Anyone’
“She said, ‘Promise me you will never speak of this again, and promise me you will never tell anyone,’” Birnbach told the jury. “I promised her both of those things.”
Birnbach testified that she is a Democrat who doesn’t like Trump and has repeatedly criticized him. She confirmed that at times she has publicly described the former president as a “narcissistic sociopath” and “Vladimir Putin’s agent.”
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Birnbach told the court that she met Trump at a party in 1995, where the real estate mogul asked her to write an article about his plan to convert his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida into a club. She said she agreed and eventually flew to Mar-a-Lago on Trump’s private jet. The story was published in New York magazine on Feb. 12, 1996.
Birnbach testified that she believed Carroll called her because Carroll knew she had just been at Mar-a-Lago and interacted with Trump. She said she was surprised Carroll had agreed to go into a dressing room with him.
“I thought it was kind of nutty,” Birnbach told the jurors. “I didn’t think it was dangerous, because, you know, I’d just spent a few days with him — he didn’t strike me as dangerous.”
The case is E. Jean Carroll v. Donald J. Trump, 22-cv-10016, US District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
Trump Lawyer Tacopina Has a Lot in Common With His Client
Trump Is Denied Mistrial Over ‘Unfair’ Rulings in Carroll Case
(Adds Trump’s decision not to testify below the second photo.)
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