(NEW YORK) — A businesswoman testified Tuesday in E. Jean Carroll’s civil defamation and battery case against former President Donald Trump that Trump had groped her during a flight to New York in 1979, in what Carroll’s attorneys said showed a pattern of behavior on Trump’s part.
Jessica Leeds is one of two women who the court has ruled are allowed to testify about prior alleged assaults by Trump, who is accused by Carroll of defaming the former Elle magazine columnist in a 2022 Truth Social post by calling her allegations “a Hoax and a lie” and saying “This woman is not my type!” when he denied her claim that Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in the 1990s.
She added a charge of battery under a recently adopted New York law that allows adult survivors of sexual abuse to sue their alleged attacker regardless of the statute of limitations. Trump has denied all allegations that he raped Carroll or defamed her.
Leeds, who first made her allegations to The New York Times just before the 2016 presidential election, testified that she was on a flight to New York when she was bumped up to first class from her coach seat and wound up next to Trump.
“When I got up there and sat down, the gentleman sitting by the window introduced himself as Donald Trump. We shook hands,” Leeds, who was 37 at the time, testified. “What happened was, they served a meal. And it was cleared and we were sitting there, when all of a sudden Trump decided to kiss me and grope me.”
She said there was no conversation — “It was out of the blue.”
Leeds described the alleged encounter “like a tussle,” saying, “He was trying to kiss me. He was trying to pull me towards him. He was grabbing my breasts. It was like he had 40 million hands.”
“It was when he started putting his hand up my skirt, that gave me a jolt of strength,” testified Leeds, who said she freed herself and went “storming back to my seat in the back of coach.”
Trump has denied the allegations.
Leeds, like Carroll, did not scream or yell during the alleged encounter.
“It never occurred to me to yell out,” Leeds said. When asked “Why not?” by Carroll’s attorney, she said, “I don’t know.”
Leeds recalled waiting until every other passenger had deplaned before she left, because she didn’t want to risk running into Trump again. She said she told no one about the alleged incident.
“I did not tell anybody at work because I didn’t think they would be interested in my experience,” Leeds said. “At that time and that place, in the work environment, men could basically get away with a lot.”
Leeds said she only revealed what allegedly happened to her when Trump started running for president.
“I started off telling my family, telling my children, telling my friends, my neighbors, my book club, anyone and everyone who would listen to me,” Leeds said. “I thought he was not the kind of person we wanted as president.”
Leeds said that three years after the alleged incident, she saw Trump with his pregnant then-wife, Ivanna, at a Humane Society of New York gala at Saks Fifth Avenue, where she was giving out table assignments.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘I remember you, you’re that c— from the airplane,"” Leeds said. “It was like a bucket of cold water thrown over my head.”
On cross-examination, Tacopina asked, incredulously, “That was from a few-second interaction from an airplane that he remembered you, apparently?”
Leeds testified that she could not recall the exact date of the alleged assault, could not recall the origin of her LaGuardia-bound flight, and did not know who Trump was at the time, describing him as “some random guy sitting next to me on the airplane.”
“Fair to say you can’t name one witness who saw what happened to you?” Tacopina asked. “Correct,” Leeds replied.
“Not a single person can corroborate your story?” Tacopina asked. “That is correct,” Leeds said.
On re-direct, Carroll’s attorney, Michael Ferrara, asked, “Are you making this up because you hate Donald Trump?”
“No, I’m not making this up,” Leeds answered.
Asked why she didn’t report the alleged assault to her bosses, since it occurred on a business trip, Leeds said, “If I had gone in and complained about what had happened, my feeling was my boss would say to me, ‘That’s really too bad, how about lunch?"”
“I didn’t want any sympathy. I wanted this job,” said Leeds. “It was a good paying job.”
The jury also saw a clip of Trump on the 2016 campaign trial denying Leeds’ accusation, saying, “She would not be my first choice” — echoing his response to Carroll that “she’s not my type.”
Earlier Tuesday, a friend of Carroll, writer Lisa Birnbach, testified that Carroll called her within “five to seven minutes” of Trump’s alleged attack at Bergdorf Goodman’s.
“She told me that Donald Trump recognized her outside or right in the doorway of Bergdorf Goodman, he asked her to help him shop, and assaulted her upstairs in a dressing room,” Birnbach testified.
Birnbach testified that she “thought it was kind of nutty” for Carroll to go to the lingerie department with Trump, but she did not think it was dangerous.
“I had just spent a few days with him,” Birnbach said of Trump, referring to two days she spent at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate for a Feb. 12, 1996, piece she wrote for New York magazine. “He didn’t strike me as dangerous.”
Birnbach described the alleged assault as she said Carroll relayed it to her, saying, “He slammed his whole arm, pinned her against the wall with his arm and shoulders and with his free hand pulled down her tights.”
“And E. Jean said to me many times, ‘He pulled down my tights, he pulled down my tights.’ Almost like she couldn’t believe it had just happened to her,” Birnbach said.
“As soon as she said that, even though I knew my children didn’t know the word, I ducked out of the room and I whispered ‘E. 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,"” Birnbach told the jury, saying that Carroll made her promise that “‘you will never speak of this again and promise me that you will tell no one.’ And I promised her both those things.”
In earlier testimony, Carroll described being in somewhat of a stupor when she called Birnbach after leaving the department store, laughing as she relayed her alleged encounter with Trump. It was Birnbach, Carroll said, who told her to stop laughing because she had been raped.
“And even when Lisa said it, it took a real effort for me to take it in,” Carroll testified. “Lisa is the one who focused my brain for that moment. It was Lisa saying that.”
Birnbach said the account that Carroll gave when she went public with the accusation in her 2019 book matched what Carroll told her in the spring of 1996.
“After I read the excerpt, I called E. Jean and told her how brave she was and what a good piece it was,” Birnbach said.
“She’s not a victim,” Birnbach said. “She doesn’t want anybody’s pity. She is somebody who, and I think it’s the way she was raised, instead of wallowing, she puts on lipstick, dusts herself off, and moves on. I think that’s how she has gotten through her life.”
Birnbach told the jury that she supported Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, was “surprised and upset” Trump won, and, on her podcast, called Trump a “narcissistic sociopath” who is “an infection like herpes that we can’t get rid of.”
But, she said, she was only testifying “because my friend, my good friend, who is a good person, told me something terrible that happened to her. As a result she lost her employment and her life became very, very difficult. I am here because I want the world to know that she was telling the truth.”
The defense has said that Carroll was motivated by “political reasons” to publish her allegation against Trump and, subsequently, sue him for defamation and battery. In its cross-examination of Birnbach, the defense questioned her about unflattering things she has said about Trump online and on various podcasts.
“Do you recall saying in a Facebook post the following: ‘Does it get worse than Donald Trump? I’ll tell you in my entire life I’ve never felt a hatred like a feel toward this person,"” defense attorney Perry Brandt asked Birnbach. He asked if, on a podcast, she said, “President Trump, and I don’t like to use those two words together.” On a different podcast, he asked if she said of Trump, “He’s a madman. He’s a narcissistic sociopath. He’s a malignant sociopath. He’s a Russian agent. He’s bad, he’s bad, and God knows what he can do before he leaves.”
Birnbach testified that all of those things sound like something she would have said.
On re-direct, Carroll’s attorney, Shawn Crowley, asked Birnbach, “When Ms. Carroll had called you in 1996 and told you he had just assaulted her, was he a political figure?” Birnbach replied, “Not at all.”
“Donald Trump in 1996 was a well-known New York person,” Birnbach said. “He was not in politics. He was not near politics. He was a guy who liked publicity and attention and he was also a known womanizer. My friend wasn’t raped by a president. She was assaulted by a guy, a real estate guy.”
“Would you lie to prevent Donald Trump from being president?” Crowley asked.
“Never,” Birnbach replied.
On Monday, under cross examination by defense attorney Joe Tacopina, Carroll said she didn’t contact police after she was allegedly attacked by Trump because, as a woman born in the 1940s, she’s a member of the “silent generation” that didn’t speak up about such things. The exchange came after Tacopina introduced several of her advice columns for Elle magazine in which she suggested that her readers call police in the event of a sexual assault or threat.
“There were numerous times where you’ve advised your readers to call the police” despite Carroll never reporting her own alleged rape to police, Tacopina said to Carroll.
“In most cases I advised my readers to go to the police,” Carroll replied.
“I was born in 1943,” she said. “I am a member of the silent generation. Women like me were taught to keep our chins up and not complain. The fact that I never went to the police is not surprising for someone my age. I would rather have done anything than call the police.”
The answer was stricken from the record as nonresponsive to the question posed, but the exchange continued the defense’s questioning of Carroll’s actions following the alleged assault, and their suggestions that her behavior — not going to the police, not seeking security camera footage, continuing to shop at Bergdorf’s — is at odds with how other sex assault victims might behave.
The nine-member jury of six men and three women is weighing Carroll’s defamation and battery claims and deciding potential monetary damages.
Carroll’s lawsuit is her second against Trump related to her rape allegation.
She previously sued Trump in 2019 after the then-president denied her rape claim by telling The Hill that Carroll was “totally lying,” saying, “I’ll say it with great respect: No. 1, she’s not my type. No. 2, it never happened. It never happened, OK?” That defamation suit has been caught in a procedural back-and-forth over the question of whether Trump, as president, was acting in his official capacity as an employee of the federal government when he made those remarks.
If Trump is determined to have been acting as a government employee, the U.S. government would substitute as the defendant in that suit — which means that case would go away, since the government cannot be sued for defamation.
This month’s trial is taking place as Trump seeks the White House for a third time, while facing numerous legal challenges related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, his handling of classified material after leaving the White House, and possible attempts to interfere in Georgia’s 2020 vote. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis said last week she would decide whether to file criminal charges against Trump or his allies this summer.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.