Credibility is the key issue in Carroll case

In the sexual assault and defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll against Donald Trump that is currently underway in a New York courtroom (the grim details of which can be read here), Carroll has faced the toughest part and that is the cross-examination from Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina.

In a case like this that took place over 30 years ago and for which there is no physical evidence or witnesses to the event, it all hinges on how jurors judge the credibility of the person making the allegations. In this case, Carroll did not scream or report the rape to the police and waited a long time to come forward with the allegations, all which Tacopina focused on to cast doubt on her testimony. However, she did tell two friends of hers at that time about what happened and they will be called to testify. The infamous Access Hollywood tape where Trump was caught boasting of his habit of grabbing women by their genitals will also be played. There may also be testimony from two other women who have publicly claimed that Trump sexually assaulted them as well.

Robert Katzberg discusses the effectiveness of Tacopina’s attempt to undermine Carroll and the judge’s irritation with the way he went about it.

The cross of Carroll was inherently loaded with land mines. First, she is an elderly woman whose direct testimony over the past two days on direct seems to have been effective. Her lawyer Mike Ferrara not only took her and the jury through the painful details of the assault itself, but very effectively had her address potential weaknesses in her story and explain them directly. In what trial lawyers call “bringing it out on direct,” you remove any surprise when the issue is raised on cross, provide in advance your best explanation, and eliminate the belief that you were too afraid to address the subject. In Carroll’s direct examination, rational reasons were provided for a host of potential matters that might impeach her credibility, including the very long time interval between the event itself and when she made any public statements about it, her personal dislike of the former president, and her ability to make money out of the incident.

Tacopina was also boxed in by the need to show that an allegation made by a credible person was—as he described it in his opening statement—“unbelievable.” While in an organized crime case, for instance, it may be necessary and appropriate to bludgeon a cooperating former mob member into admitting that at least part of his testimony is questionable, that tactic is hardly appropriate in this case. On Thursday, Tacopina’s repeated attempts to get Carroll to give in to this approach were unsuccessful.

So, it came as no surprise that Kaplan periodically intervened in the cross-examination, calling Tacopina’s questions repetitive and argumentative. Judge Kaplan’s frustration seemed to increase as the day wore on. “We’ve been up and down the mountain. Move on.”

Trump is not scheduled (as yet) to be called as a witness by either side but his credibility is on the line in addition to Carroll’s. While juries are instructed to only take into account what is presented in the trial and not read about or discuss the case outside the courtroom, is there anyone in the US who does not know about Trump’s atrocious behavior with women? Some may find excuses for it or even approve while others may deplore it but I doubt that anyone is ignorant.

The jury will have to decide if Trump is the kind of person who would do such a thing. Even if they think Trump the man is capable, those jurors may still hesitate to find Trump the former president guilty of such awful behavior, because of the absurdly high level of reverence Americans give to that office. So even though this is a civil case and they only need to find that a preponderance of evidence favors the plaintiff, they may feel that the level of certainty necessary to be closer to that of criminal cases and thus meet the higher bar of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’.

My feeling is that it is going to be hard for Carroll to get a favorable verdict in this case, despite Trump’s reputation. And if she loses, he is going to gloat and add this to his list of supposed persecutions so that his rabid followers will see him as a Christ-like figure.


  1. says

    I think Trump is likely to lose badly. For one thing, the jurors are not being asked to send him to prison, but rather to cost him a great deal of money, which he will tie up in appeals. Basically they will be judging how repulsive he is, and his his history of sexual abuse. He acts so innocent and honest, he ought to avoid he said/she said like a vampire avoids bathing in holy water. Which, he is doing. An innocent man woukd have done a DNA test on the dress and been acquitted.

  2. lanir says

    Mano, I think you’re crediting him with more virtue than he has. I think he’ll shamelessly try to play the victim about this case whether he wins or loses. He’ll compare it to the other cases against him and falsely claim that if Carroll had anything real on him it would have been a criminal case. Then he’ll paint it as a witch hunt because it’s a civil case and imply it’s part of a broad spectrum attack.

    His defense in the court of public opinion will essentially be that he’s so crooked he simply must be innocent.

  3. says

    The DNA issue is a little complicated.

    I know. But Trump’s actions are clearly not those of a man who thinks he’s innocent, and that’s what matters.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    Trump’s actions are those of a man who thinks he knows better than his lawyers.

  5. Deepak Shetty says

    Credibility is the key issue in Carroll case

    Heh. If true , then Trump would always lose cases of this type. What credibility does he have after boasting about it on tape (also one of the things that i cant still make sense of , He admitted to sexual assault, which even if locker room talk is quite something, and people still voted for him!)

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