E Jean Carrol in 2006: “reputation shattered” by Trump’s repeated lies and attacks

Coming apart at the seams

Despite last week’s E Jean Carroll defamation verdict, Trump’s popularity continues to surge. Daniel Lazare explains why events keep boomeranging in his favour

Democrats are hoping that E Jean Carroll’s $83-million victory over Donald Trump turns out to be the event that finally convinces Americans that, whatever they do, they absolutely cannot put a sex assailant in the White House.

But it is 99% certain that it will not do that. Like all Trump scandals, real or imagined, it is all too likely to disappear in the flood of events. The reasons are many. Joe Biden is too old. Prices are too high. Homelessness is up 12% in the last year alone, and a record 22.5 million households are officially “rent-burdened” - meaning that they must spend 30% or more of their income merely to keep a roof over their heads.1 There is war, immigration and political polarisation - all just about ensuring that the Carroll verdict will be lost in the shuffle.

But that is not all. There is also a growing sense that Democrats are using their control of the legal machinery to unfair advantage. Poll after poll shows Trump’s numbers rising, not despite the Democratic legal offensive, but because of it. The mug shot of him glowering beneath a mass of orange-blond hair, taken when he was booked for election interference in Georgia, is now so popular that it is being turned into a campaign ad. The New York Times admitted in September that the legal “pileup ... seems like a boon to his re-nomination effort”, while The Washington Post wrote a month later that 91 criminal charges “have boomeranged to his favour”.2

Indictments, lawsuits, headlines about inflated real estate and stolen documents, etc - all are a reminder that more is not necessarily better. By accusing Trump of everything short of beating his grandmother, Democrats are merely confirming that they will stop at nothing to bring him down before an election takes place. That means stopping at nothing to prevent a growing number of Americans from voting for the candidate of their choice. Ever since Hillary Clinton lambasted Trump followers as a “basket of deplorables ... racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” at a 2016 fundraiser gala, the sneering elitism behind such efforts has been all too apparent.

It is hard to see, therefore, why the E Jean Carroll verdict will not boomerang as well. Carroll, of course, is the 80-year-old journalist, author and advice columnist who says Trump sexually assaulted her at a high-end department store nearly 30 years ago. As she recounted in a 2019 magazine article, he had asked her to help buy a gift for a female friend after bumping into her at Bergdorf Goodman, a block or two from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. But, after checking out handbags and hats, they wound up in a dressing room in the lingerie section, where Trump proceeded to kiss her, pull down her tights, and rape her before she could escape.

A lawsuit decades after the fact may seem like a long shot, given that there was no physical evidence, no surveillance video, no witnesses and no police report. Carroll could not remember the year in which the attack supposedly took place, testifying that it might have been 1994 or 95 or maybe 1996. She could not remember the month or the season.3 She had accused ex-CBS chairman Les Moonves of sexual assault in the same article. But, even though Moonves issued an emphatic public denial, she did not see fit to sue him as well - no doubt because her financial backers did not think it would be worth the effort.

To be sure, two fellow journalists testified that Carroll confided in them about the assault shortly after. But that was the extent of corroboration.

Nonetheless, Carroll had a number of things in her favour. One is that she was highly effective on the witness stand. “I’m here because Donald Trump raped me,” she told a federal court in April. “And when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen. He lied and shattered my reputation. And I’m here to try and get my life back.”

That got jurors on her side, especially in anti-Trump Manhattan. A second thing is that it was a civil trial entailing a lower burden of proof - not beyond reasonable doubt, but based on a preponderance of evidence.

Trump response

But a third factor in her favour was Trump himself. Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s lawyer, played for the jury the famous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, in which Trump bragged back in 2005 about women being drawn to him “like a magnet” due to his fame. “And when you’re a star,” the tape went on, “they let you do it. You can do anything ... grab ’em by the pussy, you can do anything.” When Kaplan asked during a pre-trial deposition if he still felt the same way, he said yes:

Trump: Well, historically, that’s true with stars.

Kaplan: True with stars that they can grab women by the pussy?

Trump: Well, that’s what - if you look over the last million years, I guess that’s been largely true. Not always, but largely true, unfortunately or fortunately.4

Kaplan could not have got a better answer if she had written it herself. In May, a nine-member jury found Trump “liable” for sexual abuse, battery and defamation and awarded Carroll $5 million in damages. When Trump continued attacking her on Truth Social and other outlets as much as 40 times a day, she went back to court to ask for more. The upshot was last week’s follow-up judgment, in which a second jury, after deliberating less than three hours, awarded her an additional $65 million in punitive damages and $18.3 million for pain and suffering for a grand total of $83.3 million.

“This is a great victory for every woman who stands up when she’s been knocked down and a huge defeat for every bully who has tried to keep a woman down,” Carroll said in a statement. Trump, who had walked out of the courtroom during Kaplan’s closing arguments, posted that the amount was “absolutely ridiculous”, adding: “Our legal system is out of control, and being used as a political weapon. They have taken away all first amendment rights. This is not America!” But he refrained from attacking Carroll personally, to avoid opening himself up to yet more charges.

A great day for fairness and equality? Perhaps. But progressive victories have a way of turning into their opposite in a society rushing backwards as rapidly as the United States.

Whether or not Carroll was a woman wronged, there is no doubt as to her role as a foot soldier in America’s growing social and political wars. The person who persuaded her to go to court was George Conway, a wealthy lawyer who was then the husband of top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway (they are now divorced). While one Conway was growing famous for defending her boss to the hilt, another was emerging as a leader of the Republican Party’s last-ditch anti-Trump wing.

George Conway met Carroll in 2019 at an anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ party catered by a pricey New York restaurant called Momofuko.5 After complimenting her on her tell-all magazine article, Conway persuaded her to file a defamation suit and recommended that she get in touch with Kaplan, a prominent attorney whose clients included New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat.

But things did not take off until Reid Hoffman came on board. A Silicon Valley billionaire who provided early seed money for Facebook and founded the Linkedin social media platform, Hoffman is a savvy investor, a Pentagon advisor and a corporate strategist who has co-authored two bestselling business books. The start-up of you, published in 2012, informs readers: “All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies, but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA, and creation is the essence of entrepreneurship.” The alliance: managing talent in the networked age, published two years later, recommends that employers and employees think of one another “as allies on a tour of duty ... of finite duration”.

Hoffman is also a major backer of Nikki Haley, the ‘never-Trumper’ who says that the US civil war was not about slavery, but about “how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do” and who also insists that the United States “has never been a racist country”.6

Presumably, Hoffman decided to finance E Jean Carroll out of the same ‘progressive’ motives that led him to finance Haley. It is an attempt to cripple Trump’s business without confronting him politically - and without facing up to what little Democrats stand for either. It is an evasion of the real problem at hand, which is the rapid disintegration of the US political structure.


Indeed, the Carroll verdict arrived just as the breakdown was beginning to accelerate. As Trump’s popularity surges in the wake of his Iowa and New Hampshire victories, Democratic panic is growing. The New York Times has taken to running scary stories - some of which may actually be true - about how Trump could engineer “a backdoor federal abortion ban” or how he might turn the department of justice “into an instrument of vengeance against his political adversaries”.7 “Trump keeps doing appalling things,” Times columnist Michelle Goldberg complains. “... But his misdeeds have lost the capacity to shock.”8 The reason is that liberals are now resigning themselves to the fact that a second Trump presidency may be just a year away.

Tremors are being felt as a consequence. Thanks to the Trump surge, Republicans are refusing to approve military aid for Ukraine - a foreign-policy setback for the Biden administration of inestimable proportions. House Republicans are preparing to impeach Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s secretary of homeland security, as the crisis along the 2,000-mile US-Mexican border intensifies. With illegal immigration quadrupling since the Covid-19 pandemic, ultra-rightists in Texas are in open revolt.9

Rio Grande

Indeed, a major constitutional crisis has been brewing since January 10, when the Texas state militia seized control of a mile-long section of the Rio Grande waterfront and kicked US border agents out. Two weeks later, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a statement declaring that “the federal government has broken the compact between the United States and the States.” He went on:

For these reasons, I have already declared an invasion under article 1 [of the US constitution] ... to invoke Texas’s constitutional authority to defend and protect itself. That authority is the supreme law of the land and supersedes any federal statutes to the contrary.

Supersedes any federal statute? The standoff combines elements of the Capitol Hill uprising on January 6 2021, and the shelling of Fort Sumter 160 years earlier. Trump is calling on other states to send troops, while 25 Republican governors have signed a letter of support and a Canadian-style truckers’ convoy calling itself the Army of God is making its way south. After the Supreme Court ruled in the Biden administration’s favour, a far-right Texas congressman named Chip Roy told the court to “go to hell”.

What will happen? No-one knows. The only thing that is clear is that after 30 years of gridlock on Capitol Hill, two overturned presidential elections, a runaway Supreme Court and one attempted coup d’état, the system is now cracking along another fault line - that of federal-state relations.

Given all this, it is a sure bet that the E Jean Carroll verdict will be forgotten within days. What is a little matter of sexual assault, when the constitutional structure is coming apart at the seams?

  1. www.npr.org/homelessness-affordable-housing-crisis-rent-assistance; www.jchs.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/reports/files/Harvard_JCHS_Americas_Rental_Housing_2024.pdf.↩︎

  2. www.nytimes.com/2023/08/30/opinion/trump-trial-date-democracy.html; www.washingtonpost.com/elections/2023/10/13/trump-support-indictments.↩︎

  3. www.fingerlakesdailynews.com/national-news/e-jean-carroll-testifying-in-civil-case-says-she-cant-recall-date-of-alleged-trump-attack.↩︎

  4. www.nytimes.com/2023/05/04/nyregion/e-jean-carroll-trump-rape-trial.html.↩︎

  5. www.nytimes.com/2022/11/06/business/media/molly-jong-fast-politics-twitter.html.↩︎

  6. See my article, ‘Haley’s telling blunder’, January 4 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1472/haleys-telling-blunder).↩︎

  7. www.nytimes.com/2024/01/25/briefing/donald-trump-second-term.html.↩︎

  8. www.nytimes.com/2024/01/19/opinion/trump-news-disengaged.html.↩︎

  9. www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/southwest-land-border-encounters.↩︎