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Who is E Jean Carroll? The writer and TV host who took on Donald Trump

E Jean Carroll attends the 2019 Glamour Women of the Year Summit in 2019 in New York City. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Glamour)
E Jean Carroll attends the 2019 Glamour Women of the Year Summit in 2019 in New York City. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Glamour)

E Jean Carroll has been a trailblazing figure in New York’s journalism, entertainment and literary scenes for decades.

Born in Detroit and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the one-time Miss Indiana University beauty queen began pitching her ideas to magazines at the age of 12.

After graduating from college, she got her breakthrough by landing her first published article in Esquire, a “witty literary quiz she concocted” about Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald.

From there, writing assignments at Rolling Stone and Playboy began to “trickle in”, she told Indianapolis Monthly in 1996.

While living in Montana with her first husband Steve Byers and their dog, she came to New York City in 1983 to interview Fran Leibowitz for a cover article in Outside magazine.

Entranced by the bright lights of Manhattan, Ms Carroll decided to leave her husband and move there on the spot.

“Of course, I went back for my dog,” she told Indianapolis Monthly.

Ms Carroll quickly established herself as one of the city’s top magazine journalists, writing “Gonzo-style” first-person articles for Playboy and New York.

The New York Times called her “feminism’s answer to Hunter S Thompson”.

She was hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live, earning an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program in 1987.

E Jean Carroll talks to reporters outside a courthouse in New York, in March 2020. (Associated Press)
E Jean Carroll talks to reporters outside a courthouse in New York, in March 2020. (Associated Press)

In the 1990s, she went on to host her own cable television talk show called Ask E. Jean. While her career was taking off, Ms Carroll became a fixture in the glitzy New York social scene. She was a regular at Elaine’s, a legendary Upper East Side restaurant frequented by a who’s who of celebrities.

Ms Carroll mingled with literary heavyweights Norman Mailer and Gay Talese, according to a profile in USA Today. Jackie Kennedy, by then a book editor at Viking Press, would stop by.

She married former TV anchorman John Johnson, before divorcing in 1990.

At Ms Carroll’s first civil trial against Donald Trump in May 2023, a jury found him liable for sexual abuse and defamation and awarded the writer a total of $5m in damages.

On 26 January, a jury in a second trial awarded her $83m for punitive and compensatory damages.

Ms Carroll is probably best known for her advice column Ask E Jean, which ran in Elle from 1993 to 2019.

Over hundreds of columns, Ms Carroll helped women navigate the “choppy waters” of their work, social and sex lives. A consistent theme was that women should “never” structure their lives around men.

I blame Donald Trump’

In 2019, Ms Carroll released her memoir What Do We Need Men For? which drew on work that had endeared her to Elle readers for nearly 30 years.

The book contained a list of the “hideous men” she had encountered, and a bombshell allegation: that she had been raped by the then-president of the United States almost three decades earlier.

In What Do We Need Men For?, she detailed for the first time an encounter she says she had with Mr Trump at the 5th Avenue Department store Bergdorf Goodman in the mid-1990s.

A random encounter between the two, who she said were casual acquaintances, led to Mr Trump asking her for help in selecting a gift for “a girl”.

Ivana and Donald Trump, pictured in 1989, were married from 1977 to 1990. (AFP via Getty Images)
Ivana and Donald Trump, pictured in 1989, were married from 1977 to 1990. (AFP via Getty Images)

After the pair shopped for a while, he allegedly pushed her into a dressing room and raped her, according to the book and court documents.

The alleged rape by Mr Trump and his crass denials from the presidential podium have placed an intense spotlight on the 79-year-old ever since. She believed that the fallout from the accusation led Elle to fire her in December 2019.

“Because Trump ridiculed my reputation, laughed at my looks, & dragged me through the mud,” she tweeted at the time.

“I don't blame Elle. It was the great honor of my life writing ‘Ask E. Jean.’ I blame Donald Trump.”

The fashion magazine has maintained that the early termination of her contract had nothing to do with the allegations.

The ‘last hideous man’

A 2019 investigation by The New York Times found corroborating evidence to support Ms Carroll’s claims. She had discussed the traumatic experience with several friends at the time. She also accused Les Moonves, the disgraced former chairman and CEO of CBS, of sexual assault.

Ms Carroll told the court during the civil rape trial that when she began to work on her memoir, she hadn’t intended to write about the alleged assault by Mr Trump.

Seeking inspiration, she took a “feminist road trip” across the United States in 2017 striving to answer the question: “What do we need men for?”

Around the same time, sexual assault allegations against the disgraced filmmaker Harvey Weinstein became public during the initial wave of the MeToo movement. She decided she couldn’t remain silent any longer.

“I was not a pioneer, I am a follower,” she said during cross-examination on 27 April. “I saw other women coming forward after Harvey Weinstein and I thought, ‘Who am I to stay silent’. Also, I was 78 or 79, I had been silent for too long.”

In her book, Ms Carroll also alleged she had been sexually assaulted by Mr Moonves.

In a heated exchange with Mr Trump’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, Ms Carroll said that she had not sued Mr Moonves for defamation because he had simply denied the claim: “He didn’t call me names, he didn’t grind my face into the mud like Donald Trump did.”

In an essay for New York magazine, she revealed that she never had sex again after her encounter with Mr Trump, her “last hideous man”.

Months after the allegations were made public, she filed a civil lawsuit against the president for defamation.

E. Jean Carroll in New York in June 2019. (AP)
E. Jean Carroll in New York in June 2019. (AP)

Mr Trump sought to stall the lawsuit at every turn, even enlisting the help of the Justice Department to defend him in the case while in the Oval Office.

When he claimed he had never met her, she produced a picture of them together with Ivana Trump and her then-husband John Johnson at an NBC party in 1987.

Last year, Ms Carroll filed a second lawsuit against Mr Trump under a New York law that allows sexual assault survivors a chance to bring civil suits after the statute of limitations has expired on alleged offences.

The new lawsuit accuses him of battery and defamation, based on his name-calling and insults, and is the basis of the trial that began on 25 April.

Carroll testifies at trial

Ms Carroll took the stand in her civil trial against Mr Trump over three days beginning on 26 April 2023

“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me,” she testified, before going into vivid detail about the day she claims Mr Trump attacked her in a dressing room in the Bergdorf Goodman department store.

She choked back tears as she recalled the “extremely painful” rape and revealed the long-lasting toll it has taken on her life.

The former Elle columnist said she and Mr Trump were shopping around the department store at the time when he asked her to try on a piece of lingerie that he was looking to purchase – a blue bodysuit.

“He was having a good time, and so was I,” Ms Carroll said, adding that the two were harmlessly flirting with one another.

As the two reached the dressing room, Ms Carroll said Mr Trump “shut the door and shoved me up against the wall”.

“I was confused. I laughed,” Ms Carroll said.

She said she pushed Mr Trump back but he “thrust” her into the wall again. From there, Ms Carroll described how Mr Trump pulled down her tights and inserted his fingers into her vagina.

“It was extremely painful,” Ms Carroll recalled emotionally. “It was a horrible feeling. He put his hand inside me and curled his finger. As I sit here today, I can still feel it.”

When asked if she screamed for help or told Mr Trump to stop, Ms Carroll said, “I’m not a screamer. I’m a fighter.”

Former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll walks into Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in New York (AP)
Former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll walks into Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, in New York (AP)

Ms Carroll alleges Mr Trump then inserted his penis and began to rape her.

“I wonder why I walked in there, to get in that situation... I’m proud to say I got out of there,” Ms Carroll.

After the assault, Ms Carroll said she left the department store quickly and called her friend, Lisa Birnbach. Later on, Ms Carroll would tell Carol Martin, an anchorwoman at ABC, about the assault, but did not confide in many others.

Ms Carroll said she felt “very stupid” for going into the dressing room. She described how the alleged rape left her “unable to ever have a romantic life again”. Later, Ms Carroll elaborated on her inability to form and maintain romantic relationships, saying that because she was allegedly raped by Mr Trump after flirting with him, it hindered her ability to engage with men.

Jury returns verdict in Trump case

On 9 May, the jury in the civil case returned a verdict that Mr Trump was liable for sexually abusing Ms Carroll, but not raping her. They awarded the writer a total of $5m in damages, which includes the defamation claim.

In the courtroom, the clerk read the verdict: “As to battery, did Ms Carroll prove that Mr Trump raped Ms Carroll?” The jury answered “No”.

The jury also found Mr Trump liable for wonton disregard, for which Ms Carroll was awarded $20,000, according to Inner City Press.

Mr Trump was also found liable for defamation as the jury found that he made false statements about Ms Carroll.

The jury found that Mr Trump acted with actual malice and that Ms Carroll had been injured, for which she was awarded $1m. For repairing her reputation, Ms Carroll was awarded $1.7m.

Another trial, referred to as Carroll II will begin on 16 January 2024. In this one, a jury will determine how much Mr Trump should pay Ms Carroll for the damaging statement he made against her in 2019.

Ariana Baio and Gustaf Kilander contributed to this report