It’s not every day that one of Donald Trump’s accusers file a defamation suit against him, but Monday, E. Jean Carroll did just that. Carroll is an advice columnist and writer. She made the scene in New York in the 1980s and was friends with my mother, Erica Jong.
I’ve written about her a bunch of times since June, when her blockbuster allegation of rape against the President of the United States was largely ignored by much of the mainstream media despite being on the cover of New York magazine. Since then we’ve become friends.
Being defamed by Trump after a sexual assault allegation is pretty much standard, but suing him for doing it is relatively new. Usually the president vows to sue his sexual assault accusers in order to intimidate them.
But now that a court recently ruled that Summer Zervos could sue Trump for defamation, the door is wide open for others he’s defamed to fight back. And defame he did: He implied that Carroll was not good-looking enough to rape. “Number one, she’s not my type,” he said. “Number two, it never happened.” He also use that same horrifically misogynistic “not attractive enough” defense against Natasha Stoynoff. Maligning his accusers is one of Trump’s favorite strategies but it turns out that “strategy” could actually be used against him in a court of law.
The filing alleges that “In three statements—published on June 21, 22 and 24 respectively—Trump responded to Carroll by publicly, falsely and maliciously smearing her reputation.” Included in the allegation is Trump’s denial of ever meeting Carroll: “Regarding the ‘story’ by E. Jean Carroll, claiming she once encountered me at Bergdorf Goodman 23 years ago. I’ve never met this person in my life. She is trying to sell a new book—that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section.”
Carroll’s counsel is Robbie Kaplan, a crusading (and female) attorney who filed a civil lawsuit against white supremacists on behalf of two Virginia residents injured during the Charlottesville rioting.
A few minutes after the filing, I called Carroll in her cabin in the woods in upstate New York. She told me a little bit about her motivation for suing the president: “I was unhappy, that so many women were coming forward and the president was ridiculing them and laughing at their looks. Their honor was decimated. And so, it really wasn't for me, because I'm an old woman. I guess I just I really feel like it's for the women who've come forward and were ignored, laughed at, ridiculed, disparaged—actually, for women across the country who come forward and have been ignored.”
I asked her about Kaplan, who has quickly become a feminist icon for her work on Charlottesville and other cases. Kaplan argued and succeeded in overturning the “defense” of marriage act in the Supreme Court. She founded the Time’s Up legal defense fund, which connects sexual assault victims with legal counsel.
“Well, just associating with somebody like Robbie Kaplan, just associating with that woman has made me smarter,” Carroll said. “That's a Jewish woman who is suing that Nazi. I just love that she's the woman who got DOMA turned over. Right? The woman who co-founded Time's Up.” I asked if Kaplan had encouraged Carroll to sue. “She just laid it out and he just laid out what would happen,” Carroll said. “And it was totally up to me.”
I listened to her on the other side of the phone. She sounded steadfast. At 75, Carroll feels like a woman with little to lose, Donald Trump’s worst nightmare: an older woman who’d stared down bullies before. I asked her if she was ready to face Trump, to go and have her day in court against the President of the United States. “Oh yeah, I’m planning what I’m going to wear,” she said. “I’m ready.”
We talked for a while longer. I asked Carroll what her advice was to younger women, having endured a lot of sexism and abuse. She took a long pause; I could hear her dog barking in the background. “Together we will change the culture of sexual violence,” she said. “Working together, we’ll do it. My advice to women is to put things behind you quickly—don’t make things a burden on yourself.”
I don’t know if Carroll or Summer Zervos will ever get their day in court. I have no idea if any of Trump’s more than a dozen sexual assault accusers will ever get a chance to be heard. But if they do it will be because of women like Carroll and Zervos and Kaplan. Women who decided to step into the MAGA meatgrinder, to subject themselves to death threats and abuse and internet mockery.
If anything ever changes, it will be because of brave women who put their safety and their mental health on the line to remind us that even the President of the United States isn’t above the law.