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New York writer who accused Trump of sexual assault sues him for defamation

E. Jean Carroll at her home in New York. (Eva Deitch/for The Washington Post)

A writer and longtime women’s advice columnist on Monday sued President Trump, accusing him of defaming her this summer after she claimed he sexually assaulted her more than two decades ago in an upscale New York City department store.

E. Jean Carroll publicly described the alleged assault for the first time in June, in a published excerpt of a memoir. At that time and in the new lawsuit, she said that after running into the then-real estate developer at Bergdorf Goodman in late 1995 or early 1996, they chatted and shopped together before he attacked her in a dressing room. She said he knocked her head against a wall, pulled down her tights and briefly penetrated her before she pushed him off and ran out.

Carroll is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

“I am filing this on behalf of every woman who has ever been harassed, assaulted, silenced, or spoken up only to be shamed, fired, ridiculed and belittled,” Carroll said in a statement. “No person in this country should be above the law — including the president.”

Trump has denied ever meeting her and has said she was trying to promote her book.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham on Monday called the lawsuit “frivolous” and Carroll “a fraud.”

“Let me get this straight — Ms. Carroll is suing the President for defending himself against false allegations?” she said in a statement. “I guess since the book did not make any money she’s trying to get paid another way. The story she used to try and sell her trash book never happened, period. Her version of events is not even feasible if you’ve ever tried on clothing in a dressing room of a crowded department store. The lawsuit is frivolous and the story is a fraud — just like the author.”

One year before the 2020 election, Trump is grappling with a number of legal challenges, including the impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill and lawsuits targeting his businesses and finances. Carroll filed her lawsuit in a New York state court, where another defamation suit against Trump has cleared some key hurdles.

In that case, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” says Trump groped her and kissed her without permission in 2007.

Zervos was among more than a dozen women in the weeks before the 2016 election who accused Trump of sexual impropriety, following the disclosure of a videotape in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitals. Trump called the women who accused him of wrongdoing “liars,” prompting Zervos’s suit.

But another defamation case against Trump did not survive. Adult-film star Stormy Daniels sued the president last year after he suggested she had lied about being threatened to keep quiet about their alleged affair. A federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed the suit last October, ruling that Trump’s “rhetorical hyperbole” was political and ordering Daniels to pay the president’s legal fees.

Carroll’s assertion in the lawsuit that he “raped her” stands apart from less violent allegations regarding Trump’s treatment of women. Under New York law, the alleged incident occurred too long ago to try to press criminal charges.

Carroll, 75, tells the same story in the lawsuit that she wrote in the book excerpt. She said shortly after the incident in the department store, she confided in two close friends, who have publicly confirmed her account. She decided not to tell anyone else for fear of the damage to her own reputation.

Carroll considered coming forward before the 2016 election but said the #MeToo movement that took off in late 2017 finally pushed her to tell her story. The longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine said she felt compelled to speak publicly after many women who said they were victims of sexual assault or harassment turned to her for help.

Trump quickly denounced Carroll after she told her story in June to media outlets, including The Washington Post.

“Shame on those who make up false stories of assault to try to get publicity for themselves, or sell a book, or carry out a political agenda,” he said at the time. “It is a disgrace and people should pay dearly for such false accusations.”

Trump also said he had “never met this person in my life.” But the excerpt of Carroll’s book “What do We Need Men For,” published in New York magazine in June, included a photo that appears to show her with Trump at what Carroll said was an NBC party around 1987.

Trump said Carroll was “totally lying” and “not my type” when she made her accusation this summer.

Carroll’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan, said she intends to prove that Trump acted with “malice,” meaning that he knew his statements were false or showed reckless disregard for the truth.

“I don’t know what type a woman needs to be for him to decide to sexually assault someone, but that kind of gratuitous insult about her appearance is the kind of the thing that juries and judges look to,” Kaplan said in a recent interview with The Post. “It looks like malice.”

Carroll is a registered Democrat who has said her decision to accuse Trump had nothing to do with politics.