May 10, 2023

The Trump verdict.

Images from Trump's 2022 deposition in the E. Jean Carroll case. Screenshot: Courthouse News
Images from Trump's 2022 deposition in the E. Jean Carroll case. Screenshot: Courthouse News 

He was found liable of sexual abuse and defamation.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Today, we're breaking down the verdict in the Trump-E. Jean Carroll case, what it means, and what's next. Plus, a question about our continued citations of Fox News reporting.

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Quick hits.

  1. Rep. George Santos (R-NY) has been indicted on 13 counts of fraud, money laundering, theft of public money and making false statements on disclosure forms. (The indictment)
  2. Former Fox New host Tucker Carlson announced his show will be returning on Twitter. (The video)
  3. Pakistani authorities have detained hundreds of protesters and cut internet services in an attempt to quell protests after the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. (The crackdown)
  4. More than 40,000 migrants crossed Panama's Darien Gap last month, a sixfold increase from the same time last year. President Biden warned the southern border may be "chaotic for a while" as Title 42 comes to an end. (The chaos)
  5. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is expected to return to the Senate this week after more than two months at home recovering from shingles. (The return)

Today's topic.

Today's topic contains descriptions of sexual assault and language that may be inappropriate for some readers.

Donald Trump and E. Jean Carroll. On Tuesday, a federal jury in Manhattan found former President Donald Trump civilly liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll and ordered him to pay $5 million in damages. The jury ruling was the result of a civil trial in which the writer alleged Trump raped her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s, then defamed her by publicly mocking her allegations.

After a two-week trial, the jury did not find Trump liable for rape, but it did determine that, more likely than not (the standard in a civil trial), he sexually abused Carroll in a dressing room at the department store Bergdorf Goodman in 1996. He was also found guilty of defaming Carroll in comments he made while denying her allegations.

Carroll, now 79 years old, first made the allegations in 2019. She claimed that she and Trump had bumped into each other at the department store and struck up a rapport. In the midst of playful banter, they entered a dressing room together so he could try on a see-through bodysuit as a gag. Instead, she testified, he immediately shut the door and shoved her against the wall so hard her "head banged." She testified in graphic detail, saying the attack lasted for several minutes before she broke free and got out of the dressing room.

Trump, who was deposed in the case but decided not to testify to a live courtroom, called the verdict a “disgrace.”

“I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO THIS WOMAN IS,” he wrote on Truth Social. Carroll's defamation lawsuit stemmed from previous Trump comments, in which he said, “E. Jean Carroll is not telling the truth, is a woman who I had nothing to do with, didn’t know, and would have no interest in knowing her if I ever had the chance.”

Trump's lawyers said he would appeal, and he has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

During the trial, Carroll’s attorney called two witnesses who testified under oath that she had told them about the attack after it happened. She told jurors she has not had a romantic relationship since the encounter and chose to remain silent until the #MeToo movement, when she shared the story of the assault in her memoir. Carroll first sued Trump for defamation in 2019, then filed a lawsuit alleging sexual assault after the Adult Survivors Act was passed in New York in 2022, which opened a window for sexual assault survivors to sue their attackers beyond the statute of limitations.

Two other women testified at the trial that they, too, were sexually assaulted by Trump in a similar manner. He has been accused by at least 26 women of some kind of sexual misconduct, ranging from rape allegations to walking into women's dressing rooms.

While Trump did not testify at the trial, during his deposition in October 2022 he accused Carroll of making up "the most ridiculous, disgusting story," in order to gain publicity. However, the deposition was viewed as damaging for Trump, who misidentified a photo of Carroll as his ex-wife Marla Maples despite previously saying Carroll was “noy my type.” He also faced questions about the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, where he was caught on a hot mic describing how women let stars "grab them by the pussy."

“That’s what you said, correct?” Roberta Kaplan, a lawyer for Carroll, asked Trump in the 2022 deposition.

“Well, historically, that’s true with stars,” he said.

"It's true with stars that you can grab them by the pussy?" Kaplan asked Trump.

"Well, yes, if you look over the last million years, that has been largely true. Not always. But largely true. Unfortunately or fortunately,” Trump responded.

"And you consider yourself to be a star?" Kaplan asked.

"I think you can say that, yes," Trump said.

Meanwhile, Trump's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, pointed to jokes Carroll made on Facebook about having sex with Trump for money and how she was a fan of "The Apprentice." During the trial, Trump's lawyer called Carroll's account "inconceivable," saying she constructed a scenario where there were no witnesses present and no way to verify anything she had said. He also noted her story shared similarities to a 2012 episode of Law & Order, in which a character describes a rape fantasy in the lingerie section of Bergdorf Goodman. Carroll responded that she was aware of the episode but never saw it.

Tacopina also told jurors that Carroll never mentioned the alleged assault in her diary, where she claimed to take copious notes about her daily activities, and didn't mention the incident to police or speak publicly about it for over 20 years, until she was promoting her memoir. He called the case an "affront to justice," and defended the decision not to bring any witnesses forward because Trump's defense was simple: Carroll is lying.

“What could I have asked Mr. Trump?” Tacopina asked jurors. Alluding to Carroll’s inability to name the specific day of the alleged assault, he proposed a question: “Where were you on some unknown date?” He also insisted the jurors were being asked to be blind to inconsistencies in Carroll's story because they hated Trump. “Two things can be true at the same time,” Tacopina said. “You can think Donald Trump is a rude and crude person. And that her story makes no sense.”

Trump, the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination for president in 2024, is still facing criminal charges in New York for alleged hush money payments to an adult film star, as well as criminal charges related to pressuring Georgia officials during the 2020 election, his actions on January 6, and his handling of classified documents after his presidency. He is set to appear at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday night.

Today, we're going to examine some arguments from the left and right about the jury’s findings. Then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left celebrate the ruling, saying Trump is finally being held accountable for being a sexual predator.
  • Some argue that Trump's own deposition is what doomed him in this case, which started out as a longshot.
  • Others say he got a fair trial, and voters should take the ruling into account.

In The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg said the fury of #MeToo finally came for the man "who inspired it."

Trump’s presidency in 2016 began after his "boasting of sexual assault" and being "accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen women" set off a "tsunami of female fury." That fury "powered the Women’s March" the day after his inauguration, and "inspired countless women... to put their lives on hold and throw themselves into activism or to run for office themselves," Goldberg said. That "disgust" was the spark that set off the #MeToo movement, as women, unable to do anything about the abuser running the country, turned their energy toward those in their own institutions, including the entertainment industry."

The trial itself was a test of how #MeToo has "changed the culture," with Carroll's lawyers asking "a jury of six men and three women to understand why someone who’d suffered sexual abuse might keep quiet for decades, why she might not remember the date the assault happened and why her trauma might not manifest in predictable, easily legible ways." Trump is not "just a misogynist," he's "a predator," and it's the women who reacted with horror to his election who have always understood this.

In MSNBC, Danny Cevallos wrote about how Trump's deposition doomed his own defense.

This case was a longshot, "until Trump testified at his deposition." All Trump had to do "was testify the way you and I would if we were asked about something that never happened," but Trump only stuck to the script "until he didn't." He "mistook Carroll for his former wife" in a photograph after insisting Carroll was not his type. Then, "for no reason whatsoever, he gratuitously added that Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s attorney, wasn’t his type, either." That wasn't even the most damaging moment.

"Questioned about the 2005 'Access Hollywood' tape, he actually defended his comments about grabbing women by their genitals without consent," Cevallos wrote. He said the rich and famous have been able "to get away with" that behavior, unfortunately or fortunately. "What part of that was fortunate, exactly?" Cevallos asked. Both moments "featured prominently" in Kaplan’s closing arguments, and both were evidence "that didn't exist before Trump offered them up on a platter."

The Washington Post editorial board called it "an astonishing moment of accountability."

"Mr. Trump received a fair trial," the board said. "A mixed decision after three hours of deliberations underscores that jurors weren’t out to get him: The six men and three women did not find Mr. Trump liable for allegedly raping E. Jean Carroll, as she claimed, but they agreed that he was liable for sexually abusing and defaming her, awarding her $5 million in damages." Two of Carroll's friends corroborated her story, and two women recounted their own Trump run-ins in sworn testimony.

"Mr. Trump declined to appear either on the stand or in the courtroom to face his accuser, as was his right. Instead, jurors watched video of his deposition in which he mistook a picture of Ms. Carroll for that of his second wife. This undercut his claim that the former Miss Indiana University wasn’t his type," the board wrote. The jury only needed to find a preponderance of evidence to find him liable, which it did. "The standard in an election is altogether different, though the results of Tuesday’s decision have given voters compelling new evidence to take into account."

What the right is saying.

  • Some on the right mock Carroll's story, arguing that she has been an unreliable narrator who was clearly trying to promote her writing.
  • Some argue that the jury findings will be interpreted differently based on how people feel about Trump.
  • Others say Trump has lived a life of immorality, and it’s finally caught up with him.

In The Federalist, Eddie Scarry mocked the "absurd" nature of Carroll's allegations.

"It’s pretty stunning to accuse a sitting president of rape but then not want to call it rape, which is exactly what Carroll did at the time," Scarry wrote. "In an interview with The New York Times, [she said] 'It was an episode. It was an action. It was a fight. It was not a crime. It was, I had a struggle with a guy.' She added in the same interview, 'I am not — I have not been raped. Something has not been done to me. I fought. That’s the thing.'" Maybe this was a coping mechanism, but when asked in a separate interview if she would press charges, "She flatly said no, and when asked why, she said, 'I would find it disrespectful to the women who are down on the border who are being raped around the clock down there without any protection.'

"If you’re not following, that’s okay," he wrote. These were claims she made "to promote a new book," and the "borderline comical details of the non-rape" are that "the two proceeded to flirt and giggle throughout the entire business before eventually heading toward the fitting rooms," where "Trump pressed her against the wall and forced his mouth onto hers, though she continued to laugh." At some point, "she said he was able to force himself upon her before she could break away and exit the store." But "No fellow shopper saw it. No fitting room attendant. No sales clerk."

In The Washington Examiner, Timothy P. Carney said a lifetime of "immorality and callous disregard for others" came back to harm Trump.

American politics "seems to reward the worst among us," Carney said. "The 2016 presidential election pitted Hillary Clinton — famous for her thirst for power, self-dealing, and disdain for anyone standing in her way — against Donald Trump, whose narcissism and infidelity had made him a celebrity decades before." Trump's "wretched way of life won him billions, the presidency, and loyal support from most of the Republican electorate." This may be the "first time he's paid any serious price for living his life with total disregard for morality or for other people."

Sure, "false rape accusations happen," especially to billionaire politicians. But "Trump never deserved the benefit of the doubt here, because he lived his life in a way that earned him nothing but scorn and distrust. Trump left two wives, and by all accounts cheated on all three of his wives. He bragged about sexually assaulting women," and "has always smeared and personally attacked everyone who ever challenged him." Trump "made his own bed by living a life of depravity."

In Spectator, Alan Dershowitz called it a "Rorschach test" for Americans.

Carroll could not even satisfy the "low burden of proof" in the rape allegation, an indication "the jury apparently disbelieved at least part of the plaintiff’s testimony. She was very specific about being raped, not merely sexually abused or molested, as the jury did find." It's a "strange verdict" and the appeals court "will have its work cut out for it," given that the court said Trump "maliciously defamed her" by essentially saying he did not rape her, which the jury also found. "All in all, if the appellant in this case had a name other than Donald Trump, there is a good likelihood that the entire verdict might be reversed."

Trump will have arguments on a "denial of due process," since this case was made possible by "the extension of the statute of limitations." The judge also ruled "that the names of the jurors will remain anonymous even to the lawyers," which denied them the ability to determine if they have hidden biases. And the judge admitted the Access Hollywood tape as evidence, but "excluded some evidence that the defendant sought to admit."

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • If you take Trump's name out of this and examine the full context, it's all pretty damning.
  • The jury may have been biased, but Trump lost two big elements of this trial because of his deposition.
  • I think the ruling will matter more than a lot of pundits are saying.

I think Dershowitz (under "What the right is saying") is correct: Nobody can say for certain what happened between Carroll and Trump in 1996, and your perception of what happened is almost certainly tied to your political biases.

Which is why, in order to do this exercise cleanly, I think it's helpful to take Trump out of it for a minute. Given all the baggage that he has, I tried a thought exercise last night where I imagined someone rich and famous who I have neutral feelings about — let’s say actor George Clooney — and then ran through the evidence. Clooney was okay in Ocean’s 11 and his tequila is not very good, but he seems like a fine person. I imagined if Clooney had been caught on a hot mic describing how he grabs women "by the pussy" because he's famous, and I imagined how I'd feel if 26 women had publicly accused him of various sexual violations, including quite a few who said he grabbed their genitals forcibly, one who accused him of rape, and others who said his behavior was creepy.

Then I imagined if one of those women sued Clooney, took him to trial, and Clooney had to get deposed. During his deposition he reaffirmed that for "millions of years" rich and famous people have been able to grab women by their genitals and "unfortunately or fortunately" that is how it works. I imagined Clooney mistaking the woman accusing him of sexual assault for his ex-wife. I imagined him, during the deposition, being asked if he cheated on his first wife and saying, "I don't know." I imagined if there were two women willing to testify against Clooney in a trial, under oath, that he sexually assaulted them.

Despite the dynamics of rich and famous people often being the targets of these lawsuits, I think I’d still come away believing that Clooney — a star whom I really don’t know anything about — was guilty. And a creep. And probably morally bankrupt. He may not be guilty of rape in this specific case, but it would certainly appear that he had done some incredibly predatory and awful things to women throughout his life.

The baggage that comes with Trump, love him or hate him, can obscure the evidence. The same way many people ignore or latch onto evidence of Bill Clinton being a sexual predator because of how they feel about him politically. But for me, the thought exercise brings some clarity. From a 30,000-foot view, Carroll’s allegations are just another bullet point in a long list of reasons to believe Trump is capable of sexual assault and has probably committed it. There is a mountain of evidence to support the accusations that Trump has committed some kind of sexual misconduct.

As for Carroll in particular, she has demonstrated some very weird and unusual behavior. And that is not just my characterization, but the characterization of her own lawyer, who used those words to describe her. She has given bizarre interviews to CNN and The New York Times in which her definition of "rape" waffles and her accounting of events changes. She did first reveal this allegation while promoting her memoir, and she went public so long after the event that corroborating her story is essentially impossible. This is all context worth considering.

But it's also important to consider that Trump isn't exactly a reliable narrator of events, either. He declined to testify, which is his right, but not doing so in a civil case can be held against a defendant (which is the law). He has claimed on social media he and Carroll don't know each other and have never met, despite photographic evidence of the opposite — nevermind the corroborating fact Trump and Carroll were running in the same circles in New York City in the 1990s and 1980s.

A few weeks ago, I said Trump couldn't get a fair trial in a place like Manhattan, where a vast majority of the residents both know and loathe him. We don't know much about the nine jurors here, but we do know some of their media diets. Two cited CNN, a few said they will watch or listen to anything, others cited social media and Google, and one cited podcasts like Tim Pool's, who is probably best described as an online provocateur sympathetic to the right. I'd be willing to bet the jury had a mostly anti-Trump bias, but I didn't see any major red flags and I’m sure Trump’s team was happy to get six men in the jury box where it would only take one juror to sink Carroll's case. Given that they ruled in Trump's favor on the central rape allegation, one could make a good argument that Trump's issues went beyond the jury selection, as even conservative editorial boards have argued.

In my view, Trump's defense was weak, his lawyer made some odd decisions, and his deposition went very badly. That’s why he lost on two major charges. The lack of personal testimony hurt him, as jurors in a civil case want to see and hear the accused say they are innocent. There were no witnesses from his side who called Carroll's reliability into question, and in fact there were no witnesses from his side at all. That left jurors with 11 people calling Trump a sexual predator or affirming Carroll's story, Trump's own very damaging deposition, and the ex-president’s potshots taken from social media. That was a recipe for the outcome he got — and it shouldn't be too surprising to anyone.

Obviously, there are political stakes here, too. Will it matter? The popular take from pundits is that it won't. The Access Hollywood tape failed to sink Trump in 2016, and anyone planning to vote for him now will likely just view this as another chapter in the "witch hunt."

I disagree, though. Trump's core vulnerability in 2020 was independent suburban voters, particularly suburban women. He has to win them back for a chance in 2024. Being found liable for sexual abuse, doubling down on the Access Hollywood tape, and generally mocking the purported victim as "not my type" won’t help him do so. Winning in 2024 means winning those voters, which means moving them from the "never Trump" camp to the "maybe Trump” camp, and I don't see any world in which this does anything but hurt that effort.

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Your questions, answered.

Q: With all the recent revelations regarding Fox, and Murdoch properties, why would you choose to quote anything from a known unreliable source?

— Daniel from Cleveland, Ohio

Tangle: I'm assuming this question was in reference to yesterday's quick hit, which cited a Fox News story about Hunter Biden. The answer is simple: Fox News still does some great reporting.

There is a difference between opinion sections and news teams. There is a difference between opinion hosts (in primetime) and news hosts (during the day, or during breaking news events). The Wall Street Journal editorial board (a Murdoch owned property) has an obvious political bias and agenda. The Wall Street Journal news team (a Murdoch owned property) does Pulitzer Prize winning journalism.

One weird thing about today's media landscape is that there is a lot of aggregation and repurposing (obviously, we aggregate here in Tangle, too). So, sometimes, The New York Times might get a scoop on a story, but then Breitbart News will repackage that story to fit their own narrative. In that case, I will link to The Times story instead of the Breitbart story, so readers get the original source.

If, however, I think there are flaws with a story’s original reporting, I may point to a news outlet that did additional coverage or added context. In essence, I try to get readers to the source of news, while ensuring that the source is providing information fairly with appropriate context. It often isn't easy, but that's the goal.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Blindspot report.

Once a week, we present the Blindspot Report from our partners at Ground News, an app that tells you the bias of news coverage and what stories people on each side are missing.

The right missed a story about a Republican-led Texas committee advancing a bill to raise the purchase age for semiautomatic rifles from 18 to 21.

The left missed a story about hundreds of migrants amassing near the U.S.-Mexico border wall in Tijuana, as Title 42 is set to expire.


  • 50%. The percentage of voters who, in 2017, said Trump should resign because of the sexual misconduct allegations against him, according to Quinnipiac.
  • 53%. The percentage of voters who, in 2018, said they believed Bill Clinton was a sexual predator, according to Rasmussen.
  • 1 in 5. The number of women who say they have experienced a completed or attempted rape during their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
  • 81%. The percentage of women who said they have experienced some form of sexual harrassment and/or assault in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
  • 43%. The perecentage of men who said they have experienced some form of sexual harrassment and/or assault in their lifetime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
  • 25%. The percentage of rapes or sexual assaults that were reported to the police in 2018, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Robert Nessman's story is a nice interruption from recent U.S. news that has been dominated by political scandal, mass shootings, and partisan politics. Last week, Nessman was walking out of a job interview at an Applebee's in California when he saw a baby stroller rolling towards traffic. The baby's mother had fallen down and the stroller was barrelling towards a busy street of moving vehicles. Nessman sprinted after the stroller and caught it, keeping it out of harm's way. Then he found out he got the job he was interviewing for. After eight years of experiencing homelessness and unemployment, viral video of the incident has turned Nessman into a folk hero. The Guardian has the story.

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