Expert: New witness testimony in Carroll case “enough to chip away at any doubts” the jury may have

Carroll's legal team is demonstrating Trump's "propensity to sexual abuse," former prosecutor says

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published May 3, 2023 2:59PM (EDT)

Magazine Columnist E. Jean Carroll arrives for the third day of her civil trial against former President Donald Trump at Manhattan Federal Court on April 27, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Magazine Columnist E. Jean Carroll arrives for the third day of her civil trial against former President Donald Trump at Manhattan Federal Court on April 27, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Jessica Leeds, who is one of the women testifying in E. Jean Carroll's civil rape trial against Donald Trump, said the former president sexually assaulted her with what seemed like "40 zillion hands" on a flight in the late 1970s.

Leeds was sitting next to Trump in first class when he grabbed her chest and ran his hand up her skirt on a New York City-bound jet. In a matter of seconds, she managed to break free from Trump and stormed to the back of the plane, she said.

"There was no conversation. It was like out of the blue. It was like a tussle," Leeds testified, according to The Associated Press. "He was trying to kiss me, trying to pull me towards him. He was grabbing my breasts. It was like he had 40 zillion hands. It was like a tussling match between the two of us."

After the incident occurred, Leeds told the court she didn't share her experience with anyone, but when she ran into Trump at a charity gala in the early 1980s, he reminded her of the attack.

"I remember you. You're that c*** from the airplane," Trump said standing next to his pregnant wife at the time Ivana Trump, according to Law & Crime.

In recent years, Leeds has opened up about the alleged assault, including both the airplane incident and Trump's later comment from the gala.

She has also remained vocal about her aversion to Trump's politics, but clarified that her testimony was not politically motivated and is just "the truth," according to Business Insider

"Here is another 80-year-old whom Trump sexually assaulted in basically the same manner as he assaulted Carroll," former federal prosecutor and founding partner of Selendy Gay Elsberg Faith Gay told Salon. "Although Leeds' testimony was brief, the signature acts of Trump and the ages of the women were similar enough to chip away at any doubts that jury might have." 

Gay said that Trump's whole defense – including not showing up – is meant to suggest that he can't bother with such a "trivial incident" and that it "intentionally dehumanizes Carroll."

Leeds and Carroll both met for the first time in 2019 while Carroll was conducting interviews for The Atlantic with women who had come forward with sexual assault allegations against Trump.

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Carroll's longtime friend Lisa Birnbach, who Carroll had told about the alleged rape immediately after it happened, also testified on Tuesday.

She said that Carroll called her about five to seven minutes after the attack happened in the spring of 1996 and told her she had been shopping with Trump in Bergdorf Goodman before he accosted her in a dressing room and "penetrated" her.

"I said: 'Jean, he raped you. You should go to the police,'" Birnbach testified. "She said: 'No, no. I don't want to go to the police.'"

Carroll also made her promise to never bring up the incident again or tell anyone about it.

The topic didn't come up again for decades until Trump was elected in 2016 and Carroll sent Birnbach an excerpt of her book, she testified. 

"Carroll has begun to show Trump's pattern of or propensity to sexual abuse, as she promised in opening statements," former federal prosecutor Kevin O'Brien told Salon.

Trump has denied both Leeds' and Carroll's allegations against him. He even mocked Leeds after she came forward with the sexual assault allegations shortly before the election, saying she "would not be my first choice."

He has also used similar language when defending himself against Carroll's claims, saying that she was "totally lying" and "not my type".

Carroll and Leeds are both among more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct over the years.

"While Trump jets off to Scotland, these nine women and men are stuck in the jury box, sitting in a windowless room for hours, hearing in minute detail the mess that Trump made of another person's life," Gay said. "They are doing their duty as citizens while our ex-president can't be bothered."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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