The writer E. Jean Carroll and Donald Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, clashed repeatedly over her account of how she reacted after she was attacked.
Even the greeting was tense.
“Good morning, Ms. Carroll,” Joseph Tacopina, the lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump, said to E. Jean Carroll on Thursday as he prepared to cross-examine her.
Ms. Carroll simply stared at him. He repeated himself.
“Good morning,” Ms. Carroll finally replied.
“There you go,” Mr. Tacopina responded.
Thus began nearly two days of questioning during the trial in Manhattan federal court of Ms. Carroll’s civil suit, which accuses Mr. Trump of raping her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid-1990s.
The cross-examination was a duel between two New York personalities: a woman who had been a star in the media world, writing an advice column on intimate matters for readers across America, and a lawyer known for aggressive advocacy who is now one of Mr. Trump’s most visible champions and is also representing him in the criminal case brought by the Manhattan district attorney.
Mr. Tacopina, with an expression of incredulity, tested Ms. Carroll on minute details of events of more than 30 years ago. He repeatedly asked her why she decided to come forward with the accusation when she did — an effort on his part to suggest to the jury ulterior motives: politics, money and fame.
For generations, such questions have been mainstays for defense lawyers trying to undermine women’s accounts of rape. But recent years have brought a wider consciousness of the many ways women may react to sexual assault, and Ms. Carroll at times used her testimony to explain that some behavior Mr. Tacopina questioned was in fact characteristic of women who had been raped.
Ms. Carroll, who was on the witness stand for three days, described in painstaking detail for the jury of six men and three women how she had run into Mr. Trump as she was leaving the department store. She spoke of how he had asked her to help him choose a gift for a friend, how he had led her into a dressing room and how he had pushed her up against a wall, pulled down her tights, put his fingers into her vagina and then inserted his penis — all without her consent and while she tried to escape.
Mr. Tacopina used his cross-examination not only to ask Ms. Carroll about what she said happened, but to question her about what she did afterward. He repeatedly asked her why she hadn’t screamed and why she had called a friend instead of going to the police.
Joseph Tacopina tried to push Ms. Carroll’s sometimes-rambling answers forward. Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times
The veteran lawyer, 57, who on the first day of cross-examination wore a tapered navy suit, was an imposing courtroom presence. He rarely let go of the lectern from which he lobbed questions in a deep, booming voice, at times leaning forward, to the side and backward.
Ms. Carroll’s lawyers frequently objected, arguing that many questions were argumentative, repetitive and at times misrepresented their client’s testimony. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan sustained several of the objections.
The lawyer asked Ms. Carroll again and again whether she had screamed.
“I’m not a screamer,” Ms. Carroll, 79, yelled. “You can’t beat up on me for not screaming.”
Mr. Tacopina said he wasn’t doing that, but Ms. Carroll continued.
“Women who come forward, one of the reasons they don’t come forward is because they are always asked why didn’t you scream,” Ms. Carroll said. “Some women scream. Some women don’t. “
Mr. Tacopina also repeatedly asked why Ms. Carroll had not called the police, while she had once called them on behalf of a friend after children vandalized a mailbox.
“Women like me were taught and trained to keep our chins up and to not complain,” Ms. Carroll said. “The fact that I never went to the police is not surprising for someone my age.”
At some points, Ms. Carroll’s lengthy answers did not address the question that Mr. Tacopina had asked.
In response to a line of questioning about an excerpt from her 2019 memoir, in which she first publicly accused Mr. Trump of assault, Ms. Carroll instead told the jury a story about being hospitalized, and how she had been so ill that she had written a will.
As she spoke, Mr. Tacopina placed a hand on his hip and nearly turned his back on Ms. Carroll.
“OK,” Mr. Tacopina said once she finished. “My question was …”
At another point, Ms. Carroll wrapped up a lengthy response, and several seconds passed.
“Are you done?” Mr. Tacopina finally asked.
By the end of cross-examination on Monday, Judge Kaplan appeared frustrated by both parties.
“Look, Ms. Carroll, it would help if you would just answer the question, and, Mr. Tacopina, it would help if you were clear when your question was over and what it was asking,” Judge Kaplan said.
Many of the jurors seemed uncomfortable during the questioning, leaning toward Ms. Carroll, with their eyes fixed on her or down in their laps.
Kate Christobek contributed reporting, and Kitty Bennett contributed research.