E Jean Carroll describes terror of facing Trump in court: ‘He was nothing’

Writer E Jean Carroll said the fear and anxiety she felt while preparing to face Donald Trump, the man she accused of sexually assaulting her, melted away while on the witness stand during her defamation trial.

More than two weeks ago, and 25 years after being assaulted by Mr Trump, Ms Carroll braced herself to share the same space as the former president in a New York City federal courthouse.

“I was terrified,” Ms Carroll told Rachel Maddow on Monday night. “Four days before trial, I had an actual breakdown. I lost my ability to speak, I lost my words, I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t go on. That’s how frightened I was.”

For the first time since the assault, Ms Carroll was going to have to face Mr Trump when she took the witness stand to testify to the damages his 2019 defamatory statements caused her.

But the former Elle columnist said her fears suddenly dissipated the moment she took her seat on the stand.

“I looked out, and he was nothing,” Ms Carroll told The Rachel Maddow Show. “He was a phantom. It was the people around him who were giving him power, he himself was nothing.”

Court drawing of E Jean Carroll testifying as Donald Trump watches footage of himself on CNN (Reuters)
Court drawing of E Jean Carroll testifying as Donald Trump watches footage of himself on CNN (Reuters)

For more than four years, the former president vehemently denied sexually assaulting Ms Carroll in a New York department store dressing room in the 1990s – Mr Trump claimed he had never met her, she was lying, she was not his “type” and threatened to make her “pay” for coming forward with her allegations.

During her defamation trial, Ms Carroll testified that she lived in fear for her safety in the years that followed Mr Trump’s statements. But on Monday, Ms Carroll told Ms Maddow she knows now there’s no reason to fear the former president.

“We did what people thought was impossible we beat Donald Trump,” Ms Carroll said, joined by her attorneys, Roberta “Robbie” Kaplan and Shawn Crowley.

Ms Carroll sued the former president in 2019 and 2022 for two sets of defamatory statements he made. Last year, a jury found Mr Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation, awarding Ms Carroll $5m.

On Friday, a separate jury awarded Ms Carroll more than $83m in compensatory and punitive damages.

The conclusion of the trial marks a significant moment for sexual abuse survivors, whom Ms Carroll says she was fighting for in her pursuit to hold the former president accountable for his actions.

But it is also a blow to the former president, who has often claimed his power while in the White House should grant him sweeping immunity against claims of election interference, violating Section Three of the 14th Amendment, mishandling classified documents and more.

Even during the second defamation trial, Mr Trump claimed it was an unfair, politically motivated lawsuit and trial designed to hurt his chances of re-election this year. But Ms Carroll and her attorneys say that their win has proved they can stand up to “the man” without fear.

“It is time to stand up to the world’s current, or the US’s current, biggest bully, and the way to do that is by using the facts, the law and the legal system to say we are not afraid,” Ms Kaplan said.