Federal Judge Allows Access Hollywood Tape as Evidence in E. Jean Carroll Defamation Trial Against Donald Trump


E. Jean Carroll, who accused former President Trump of rape in a Bergdorf Goodman fitting room around 1995, is suing him for defamation.Photo byAP

A federal judge has ruled that the infamous Access Hollywood tape, in which former President Donald Trump boasted about groping women without their consent, can be presented as evidence in E. Jean Carroll's civil rape lawsuit against him. The ruling was issued on Friday by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who also allowed the testimony of two witnesses, Natasha Stoynoff and Jessica Leeds, who have claimed that Trump sexually assaulted them.

Carroll, a former Elle magazine advice columnist, has accused Trump of raping her in the mid-1990s in the dressing room of a New York City luxury department store. She claims that her reputation was damaged when Trump denied raping her in 2019, and she subsequently sued him for defamation. Trump's attorney, Joseph Tacopina, had no comment on the ruling.

Judge Kaplan stated that the Access Hollywood tape suggests that Trump has previously sexually assaulted women, which satisfies the legal requirement to introduce the tape as evidence. Kaplan wrote, "In this case, a jury reasonably could find, even from the Access Hollywood tape alone, that Mr. Trump admitted in the Access Hollywood tape that he, in fact, has had contact with women's genitalia in the past without their consent, or that he has attempted to do so. And that conclusion is supported by the other evidence discussed below."

In the Access Hollywood tape, which aired during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump boasted about kissing and groping women while talking with "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush. He used vulgar language and discussed trying to have sex with a married woman. Kaplan also will permit Stoynoff and Leeds to testify about their own claims of sexual assault against Trump at trial.

Leeds, a former businesswoman, claims that Trump sexually assaulted her on a flight from Texas to New York in 1979, touching her and attempting to kiss her without her consent. Stoynoff, a former writer for People magazine, says Trump sexually assaulted her during a visit to his Mar-a-Lago resort, kissing and groping her without her consent.

"Moreover, the Access Hollywood tape and the testimony of Ms. Leeds are additional evidence that a jury would be entitled to consider in deciding whether to infer that the ultimate goal of Mr. Trump's alleged actions with Ms. Stoynoff was to bring his hands or other parts of his anatomy into contact with Ms. Stoynoff's most private parts," Kaplan ruled.

"To be sure, the Court does not now draw any such inference. And Mr. Trump has publicly denied any such occurrence ever happened. He, of course, will be entitled to do so before the jury. And the jury could credit Mr. Trump's testimony in preference to Ms. Stoynoffs. But that is for another day. The Court's only function at this stage is to decide whether the evidence of record is sufficient for a jury reasonably to conclude that Mr. Trump at least attempted to have contact with Ms. Stoynoff that, if it had occurred, would have met the requirements of Rule 413(d). That standard has been satisfied."

Kaplan had previously ordered Trump to sit for a deposition in the case on October 19, 2022. The defamation trial is scheduled to start on April 25, and it is one of many legal issues Trump faces as he campaigns for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Apart from the Carroll lawsuit, Trump is also being investigated for hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had an affair with him before he became president. Trump also faces investigations into his finances, attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and alleged mishandling of classified documents.

The ruling is a significant development in the ongoing lawsuit against Trump and could potentially have implications for his other legal battles, as well as his political aspirations. The Access Hollywood tape and the testimony of the other women serve as evidence that Trump has a history of inappropriate sexual behavior, which could damage his credibility in other cases and in the eyes of voters.

Carroll's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, hailed the ruling as a victory for her client and for all survivors of sexual assault. "Today's decision is a complete and total victory for E. Jean Carroll, a woman who has suffered and continues to suffer terrible emotional and psychological pain because Donald Trump raped her," Kaplan said in a statement. "The evidence in this case is clear and compelling, and we look forward to presenting it to a jury in April."

However, Trump's supporters and legal team argue that the ruling is unfair and politically motivated. They point to the fact that Carroll waited decades to come forward with her allegations and suggest that her lawsuit is part of a broader campaign to discredit Trump and undermine his presidency. They also argue that the Access Hollywood tape is not relevant to Carroll's case, as it does not directly prove that Trump raped her.

Despite these objections, Judge Kaplan's ruling will stand, and Carroll's lawsuit will proceed to trial later this year. The outcome of the case could have significant consequences for both Trump and his accusers, as well as for the broader #MeToo movement and the fight against sexual assault and harassment.

As the world watches the legal drama unfold, one thing is clear: the Access Hollywood tape, once dismissed by many as mere locker room talk, is now a central piece of evidence in a high-stakes legal battle that could have far-reaching consequences for the future of American politics and justice.

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Chicago Heights, IL

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