Why E. Jean Carroll, ‘the Anti-Victim,’ Spoke Up About Trump

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E. Jean Carroll tore through the doors of the Fifth Avenue entrance of Bergdorf Goodman, her heart racing.

Ms. Carroll, a journalist and the host of the “Ask E. Jean” television show at the time, had taped a segment that day in 1996 at a studio in Fort Lee, N.J. When it ended around 5 p.m., she decided to come into Manhattan to shop at her favorite store.

From the sidewalk, she phoned Lisa Birnbach, a friend and author of “The Official Preppy Handbook.” Ms. Carroll was laughing at first as she described an encounter she said she had just had in a Bergdorf’s dressing room with Donald J. Trump that began as cheeky banter. But what she was saying didn’t strike Ms. Birnbach as funny. “I remember her being very overwrought,” Ms. Birnbach said in an interview. “I remember her repeatedly saying, ‘He pulled down my tights, he pulled down my tights.’” When Ms. Carroll finished her account, Ms. Birnbach said, “I think he raped you.”

“Let’s go to the police,” she recalled telling Ms. Carroll. But Ms. Carroll refused. A day or two later, she described the episode to another friend, Carol Martin, a TV host at the same network. She advised Ms. Carroll to stay silent.

[Listen to E. Jean Carroll and her confidantes discuss the allegations on “The Daily.”]

“These traumas stay with you,” Ms. Martin said. “I didn’t know what to do except listen.”

The three women didn’t speak about the incident again until Ms Carroll began preparing for her forthcoming book, they said. It became public last week when Ms. Carroll, in a New York magazine excerpt from the book, accused the president of sexually assaulting her years ago. It was the most serious of multiple allegations women have made against him, all of which he has denied.

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Ms. Birnbach and Ms. Martin, who haven’t previously spoken publicly about Ms. Carroll’s account, say they are doing so now to bolster their friend, especially since she has been attacked in recent days by skeptics and some supporters of Mr. Trump.

“I saw some horrible things that people were posting on social media,” Ms. Birnbach said. “I believe E. Jean in this episode that she recounted to me in 1996. Yes. Without hesitation. She’s not a fabulist.” She added, “She doesn’t make things up.”

Mr. Trump has said that Ms. Carroll was “totally lying,” that he didn’t know her and that “she’s not my type.”

In media interviews in recent days, Ms. Carroll, who once wrote for “Saturday Night Live,” has been confident. Asked on MSNBC why she made her accusation in a book, she replied: “What? A woman is not allowed to take a pen and put it to a piece of paper?” (“That didn’t go over very well,” she said in an interview later.) On CNN, she explained why she preferred the word “fight” to “rape”: “I think most people think rape is sexy. Think of the fantasies.” (She explained later that she was referring to romance novels that depict men ravishing women. “This was not thrilling, this was a fight,” she said. “A fight where I’m stamping on his feet and I think I’m banging him on the head with my purse.”)

Those public appearances are in keeping with how friends describe her: the girlfriend who would ride a Yugoslav freighter to Tangier; the plucky author of a popular column who dispensed advice on every aspect of her devoted readers’ lives, from sex to careers, but kept her own struggles private. She is a former Miss Cheerleader USA turned journalist, whose gonzo-style approach led The New York Times in 1981 to call her “feminism’s answer to Hunter S. Thompson.”

“The thing with E. Jean is she doesn’t adhere to a script,” said Marilyn Johnson, an author and longtime friend. “She’s a total original.”

‘She Was Fearless’

Ms. Carroll, now 75, grew up Betty Jean Carroll outside Huntertown, Ind., though her family and oldest friends call her Jeanie. She spent more than a decade living on a ranch in Montana, changed her name to Elizabeth Jean, then shortened it in her first Esquire byline to “E. Jean.” She now lives in upstate New York, on what she calls “an island” of secluded forest near the Appalachian Trail. Her home, which she shares with a cat named Vagina T. Fireball, is a small cottage painted with black and white stripes, with polka dots on the chimney. “It’s like part refuge, part fortress, part headquarters,” said Lisa Chase, her editor at Outside magazine and later at Elle, where Ms. Carroll has written the “Ask E. Jean” column for more than 20 years. “If you go there, look in the oven. I think she’s got a lot of books in there.”

Ms. Carroll often wears workwear-style jumpsuits, of which she has more than a dozen in varying shades. “Try to get this unzipped,” she said to a reporter, standing up in a restaurant. “Go ahead! Good luck.” She is an archer who keeps five arrows, along with a bow and a quiver, above her fireplace. “I’m a crack shot,” she said.

When she wanted to profile Hunter S. Thompson, she showed up at his house in Colorado and all but moved in. She later wrote that the two had become intimately involved, and had done acid together. For Esquire, she profiled Dan Rather and Lyle Lovett (she asked him his penis size), and she persuaded the humor writer Fran Lebowitz to go camping with her for an article in Outside. For Playboy, she trekked across Papua New Guinea for a story “in search of primitive man.” In 1995, when Ms. Carroll found a lump in her breast, she brought a film crew to her surgery — and aired it on her television show.

“She was incapable of being uninteresting, or writing a boring sentence,” said Bill Tonelli, her editor at Esquire. “She was fearless.”

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CreditG. Paul Burnett/The New York T​imes

She co-founded a dating website in 2002 called Greatboyfriends.com — where women could recommend their exes — and later, a matchmaking service called Tawkify. (Greatboyfriends sold to The Knot in 2005 for $600,000.) But, she revealed in the New York magazine excerpt, she has not had sex since the encounter with Mr. Trump that day in the dressing room.

“I just was not lucky enough to meet someone,” she said in an interview. “The desire for desire was over.”

In her book, “What Do We Need Men For?,” which comes out on Tuesday, she describes “hideous men” in her life. In addition to Mr. Trump, the list includes the former CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves, who she said groped her in a hotel elevator when she interviewed him for a 1997 Esquire story; a childhood camp friend who sexually assaulted her as a young girl; and her second husband, the television personality John Johnson, whom she described as physically abusive.

Mr. Moonves has denied Ms. Carroll’s account of his groping. Reached by phone, Mr. Johnson declined to comment.

Confidantes provided some corroboration of Ms. Carroll’s claims. Nancy Hass, a writer for The Times’s T Magazine, said that in the late 1990s, Ms. Carroll mentioned having been groped by Mr. Moonves, but didn’t go into detail. “E. Jean is the anti-victim,” Ms. Hass said in an interview. “She can’t bear pity.”

Another friend, a former news producer named C. C. Dyer, said in an interview that she was with Ms. Carroll one morning and saw red marks on her neck, a ripped nightgown and bloodshot eyes after what Ms. Carroll said was an altercation with Mr. Johnson, an incident described in the book. Ms. Dyer said she told her husband at the time, Geraldo Rivera, about it. (A Fox News spokeswoman said Mr. Rivera was traveling and not available for an interview.)

Ms. Dyer was among more than a dozen former colleagues, family members and friends interviewed by The Times who attested to Ms. Carroll’s credibility.

“It’s inconceivable to me that she would make up a story like this,” said Stephen Byers, a former editor at National Geographic and her first husband, referring to the Trump allegation. He and Ms. Carroll were married for more than a decade. “She’s a very honorable woman.”

Still, there are unresolved questions about Ms. Carroll’s accusations, including the absence of any witnesses or, apparently, staff in the lingerie department at Bergdorf’s, and the lack of physical evidence. She has acknowledged that her response afterward — when she called her friend, laughing — may appear odd, but she attributes it to being in shock. In her book, she was hazy about whether the incident had taken place in 1995 or 1996; after recent conversations with Ms. Birnbach, they believe that it was most likely in 1996. And despite the president’s growing political profile, for years Ms. Carroll never raised the subject of her encounter with Mr. Trump.

Why speak up only now? If not when it happened, why not in 2016, when more than 10 other women came forward accusing Mr. Trump of sexual improprieties? Or when the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he bragged about assaulting women, was revealed?

Cande Carroll, 71, said that she, E. Jean, and their two other siblings — Tommy and Barbara — were in Indiana at their dying mother’s bedside the day the tape was disclosed. “We were all horrified,” the younger Ms. Carroll said. Her sister, though, said nothing about a personal story.

E. Jean Carroll said the “Access Hollywood” tape and the allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Trump did not compel her to speak about her own experience with him. If anything, said Ms. Carroll, who describes herself as a “gun-owning Democrat,” she figured the accusations made Mr. Trump appear strong in the eyes of his supporters. “I suspected it was helping,” she said.

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Creditvia E. Jean Carroll

On election night in 2016, Ms. Carroll was at Ms. Birnbach’s home watching the results. Ms. Carroll thought there was a moment when she and Ms. Birnbach shared a knowing look about Mr. Trump, but Ms. Birnbach did not recall it. In fact, she said, by that point she had forgotten what Ms. Carroll had told her.

The #MeToo Moment

As Ms. Carroll described it, the original idea for her book had nothing to do with Donald Trump. Rather, after years of listening to her readers’ concerns — most of them related to men — she had decided to take her dog on a trip around America and ask women the question: Do we really need men? The plan was to visit towns named after women, such as Cynthiana, Ind. — “it sounds like poetry!” she said — to eat in restaurants named for women, read books by women and listen to female artists in the car.

“I actually thought this was going to be a ‘Travels With Charley,’” Ms. Carroll said in an interview.

But then #MeToo happened. The news of allegations against Harvey Weinstein broke as she was driving through Pennsylvania in the fall of 2017. “I just kept pulling over to see the story,” she said. “And I couldn’t help but think of men in my own life.”

She also thought of the women she had advised over the years to buck up, to speak up, to go to the police or “move everything out when he’s at work.” “I felt like a fraud,” she said, because she had taken no such action herself. By the time she submitted her book proposal, in May 2018, she’d rethought it as part memoir, with the Trump allegation included. St. Martin’s Press paid a modest sum.

Ms. Carroll invited Ms. Birnbach and Ms. Martin to lunch last year and showed them the chapter depicting the encounter with Mr. Trump and the friends’ discussions about it. (Their names do not appear in the book.) In it, she wrote that she and Mr. Trump had recognized each other at Bergdorf’s, talked playfully about what gift he might buy for a woman, and ended up in the lingerie department, challenging each other to try on a lilac bodysuit. She remembered thinking it would make a great story.

But in the dressing room, with no one nearby, Ms. Carroll said Mr. Trump pushed her against a wall, pulled down her tights and put his penis inside her. “It was violent, I fought, but didn’t think of it as …” she trailed off, never saying “rape.” “I have a hard time even saying that word,” she said.

She said she blamed herself for going into the dressing room with him. “What an idiot,” she said. “You don’t combine lingerie and going in a closed room.”

Sitting in Ms. Birnbach’s living room this week, the three reflected on the secret’s finally being out in the open.

As prominent journalists in New York in the 1990s, all three had at one point operated in overlapping circles with Mr. Trump, the real estate heir and tabloid news fixture with a messy personal life.

Ms. Carroll and Ms. Martin both had shows on America’s Talking, the cable channel run by Roger Ailes, and Ms. Martin said she had a brief exchange with Mr. Trump when he came in for an interview. She also had a friend who briefly dated him. Ms. Birnbach had interviewed Mr. Trump for an article about Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, in the months before she received that phone call from Ms. Carroll. And Ms. Carroll and her husband at the time had been photographed with Mr. Trump and his then-wife, Ivana Trump, at an NBC party in the late 1980s.

Ms. Carroll seems undaunted by the criticism and doubt that her accusations have unleashed. After taping an interview with CNN on Monday, Ms. Carroll went to a party in Brooklyn, where friends and former editors had gathered to toast her with a bottle of Chartreuse (her favorite) and a cake that read BRAVE. How was she? They wanted to know. Was she checking Twitter? Was she scared?

“I’m having a ball,” she replied.

She handed over a small box to the hostess — a gift to thank her for organizing the party. It was from Bergdorf’s.

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Listen to ‘The Daily’: Corroborating E. Jean Carroll

Ms. Carroll told two women that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. The women went public for the first time with Megan Twohey, a New York Times reporter.

transcript

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29:35

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: Corroborating E. Jean Carroll

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Annie Brown, Theo Balcomb, Luke Vander Ploeg and Eric Krupke, and edited by Lisa Tobin and Larissa Anderson

Ms. Carroll told two women that Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. The women went public for the first time with Megan Twohey, a New York Times reporter.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.” Last week, E. Jean Carroll came forward with the most serious allegation yet of sexual assault by the president. Today, the two women in whom she privately confided after the alleged attack go on the record for the first time with my colleague Megan Twohey. It’s Thursday, June 27. Can I ask you, Megan, are all your various phones on silent mode?

megan twohey

Sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hold on.

michael barbaro

It’s so good to have you back.

megan twohey

Oh, my goodness.

michael barbaro

It’s been almost a — at least a year.

megan twohey

Yeah. I think — I don’t think I’ve been on since the Weinstein story broke. I think I was actually wearing the same outfit.

michael barbaro

Oh, actually, I think you were! I think you were, because I took a photograph of it.

megan twohey

Oh, my God. I’ve been in, like, the book-leave, living-in-sweatpants mode.

michael barbaro

[CHUCKLES] That sound okay?

megan twohey

Yeah.

michael barbaro

O.K.

megan twohey

Sure.

michael barbaro

Megan, can you take us back to last Friday, when New York magazine published an article about E. Jean Carroll?

megan twohey

So, E. Jean Carroll is a longtime advice columnist for Elle magazine. And last Friday —

archived recording

There is more breaking news tonight. In an interview published in the latest edition of New York magazine, a woman claims that President Trump assaulted her 23 years ago in an upscale New York City department store.

megan twohey

She published what amounted to a rape allegation against Donald Trump.

archived recording

Today, the president of the United States was accused of rape.

megan twohey

She has a book that’s coming out on Tuesday, July 2. And this was sort of a condensed excerpt of a chapter in the book, in which she describes an encounter with Donald Trump at Bergdorf’s here in New York. The idea for this book came to her around 2017. As she tells it, she’s going to set off on a road trip across the country. She’s going to go to towns named after women, and she’s going to get out of her car in all of these towns and ask women, stop women on the streets and say, why do we need men? And basically, as soon as she’s hit the road, it’s October 2017, and the Harvey Weinstein story breaks. And —

michael barbaro

Your story. The one you and Jodi Kantor wrote.

megan twohey

Yes. So as E. Jean tells it, she is spending her days on the streets of these towns interviewing women about their experiences with men. And then at night, she’s going home and she’s fielding these — a flood of emails that are coming in to her advice column, all different types of women who are being sort of swept up into the #MeToo moment and are turning to her for advice. And so in this moment, she really kind of pauses and says, I think I have to have my own personal reckoning here before I can really wade into all of these messages that I’m getting, and all this sort of help that people are turning to me for. And so, for her, the sort of personal reckoning ended up in the form of a list that she called the “hideous men list.” She says that she suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a young boy when they were both children. She talks about an encounter with a camp counselor that she says groped her. She talks about an encounter that she had in college when somebody basically held a knife to her — a date ended up holding a knife to her. It kind of continues up into adulthood. Her first boss. And number 20 is Donald Trump. So the book sells, and it’s now scheduled to come out on July 2. And in the lead-up to that, there’s this excerpt that runs in New York magazine that I and many, many, many, many other people end up reading on Friday. And for me, one of the things that I was drawn to, that I immediately went to in this account, was —

archived recording

Now, E. Jean Carroll never reported her alleged sexual assault to police. But she did tell two friends about it at the time, and those friends have confirmed that to New York magazine.

megan twohey

She told two friends at the time of the alleged attack. They have not elaborated. They have not gone on the record. They have not revealed who they are. They have not shared their perspectives.

michael barbaro

They have not told their stories.

megan twohey

They have not told their stories. And here at The New York Times, I think there was agreement that if we could get these women to go on the record, to use their names, to tell us about their recollections of this particular moment in time, that it would help people assess the credibility of this very serious allegation against the president of the United States.

michael barbaro

It might change how they view it.

megan twohey

It’s just more information with which to assess this very serious allegation.

michael barbaro

So what happens?

megan twohey

So starting last weekend, I set about trying to convince these two women to sit down with me, and share their perspectives, and go on the record. And that involved phone calls, text messages. Both of them were pretty reluctant. They didn’t want to necessarily be pulled into the spotlight. But ultimately, today, on Wednesday, I finally had the opportunity to sit down with E. Jean and these two women that she had told her story to 20 years ago.

megan twohey

Yeah. Well, thank you guys for your trust, and for this. I think it’s — I think it’s really important. I think it’s —

michael barbaro

So how did this conversation start?

megan twohey

Tell me a little bit about yourself, and you know, can you just sort of give me your full name and a little bit of your background, and how you guys met?

carol martin

Carol Martin, C-A-R-O-L-M-A-R-T-I-N. And I have been living in New York about 45 years, I think, now. It’s hard to believe. I came here in —

megan twohey

So this conversation started really as kind of a trip down memory lane.

[music]

archived recording

Wonderful studio audience today. Thanks, everybody, for being with us here on Martin Luther King Day.

megan twohey

These are three women who’ve worked in the New York media world for decades. And —

e. jean carroll

They gave you your own show.

carol martin

Yeah, well, also you, too, duh.

megan twohey

One was a longtime TV anchor, Carol Martin.

archived recording

Of course, we want to hear from you in the next hour. We’ve got some interesting topics, and you can probably —

megan twohey

At the time of the alleged attack, she and E. Jean were both hosting shows on the same network.

archived recording

Hi, E. Jean. How are you doing?

archived recording (e. jean carroll)

Hey man, that is a cool car.

megan twohey

Carol Martin, she had a show, like, a health and wellness show. E. Jean had an advice show.

carol martin

Your show, for all of us, anyway, was sort of the front runner.

e. jean carroll

And they let us do whatever we wanted. They just gave us these shows, it was nuts.

megan twohey

And did you guys hit it off right away?

e. jean carroll

Yeah, we did.

carol martin

But yeah, we did.

megan twohey

The other woman, Lisa Birnbach —

lisa birnbach

Mostly, I was a contributing editor of Parade.

megan twohey

She’s an author. She wrote the “Preppy Handbook.”

lisa birnbach

I wrote for everybody at least once or twice.

megan twohey

She worked for a Spy magazine. She’s written pieces for all the glossy magazines.

lisa birnbach

Remember her? She was on “Merv Griffin” all the time. She was the —

megan twohey

So they just swapping stories of the people that they covered. And —

lisa birnbach

— comedy writer. He wrote “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

megan twohey

— the circles that they moved in with TV writers, and other journalists. And —

carol martin

You know, Chris Matthews had a show on there.

megan twohey

They were just dropping names left and right.

e. jean carroll

You came to his birthday party.

carol martin

Oh lord, thank you. Thank you.

e. jean carroll

1987.

carol martin

This is all true.

megan twohey

You almost felt like you were kind of stepping back in time.

carol martin

It was a glorious experience, in its own way, that little patch of time. You know?

megan twohey

When the New York media world was just kind of at its peak.

michael barbaro

And if this is the heyday of the New York media world, we know that Donald Trump very much figures into it.

megan twohey

He does. In fact, they all had Trump stories.

carol martin

She actually did a story on Donald Trump. I didn’t know this.

megan twohey

Lisa had actually written a story about Donald Trump in 1996.

lisa birnbach

He did call me regularly. His assistant, Norma, would make the call, and say Donald Trump is on the phone. Are you still into it? Because I said it would be a cover story.

megan twohey

She had gone down to Florida with him, and done a big story for New York magazine about Mar-a-Lago.

lisa birnbach

I think my story is one of the reasons you thought to call me.

e. jean carroll

That is a high possibility. But I don’t remember it. I just called — that — you were the one.

megan twohey

It really started to segue into the phone call that she had received from E. Jean that same year.

megan twohey

— after, can you, I know you’ve discussed this before. But can you walk us through what happened this particular day? You were — had been at the studio where you and Carol worked.

e. jean carroll

Yes. And I wanted to shop for something. I can’t remember what it was. Drove across the George Washington Bridge, came up the West Side Highway, parked across the street from Bergdorf’s. Shopped for whatever it was, didn’t find it, because I didn’t have bags.

megan twohey

So the conversation then takes a more serious turn, where E. Jean then starts walking us through, kind of beat by beat, what happened the moment of the alleged attack.

e. jean carroll

Was on the point of leaving the 58th Street entrance. He was standing outside, and it was dark. So it must have been 6:30, maybe 7:00. He went like this when he saw me through the door. Like, stand there and stopped me.

megan twohey

Made a gesture? Like, held up his hand?

e. jean carroll

Yeah, held his hand like that. And he came through the door, and he said, you’re that advice lady. And I said, you’re that real estate mogul. He said, come advise me. I want to get a gift. I was like, this is charming. Oh, boy. I said yes. I asked him who it was for. He said, a girl. And I am just having such an engaging time, because I have Donald Trump in tow, and he is asking for my advice. I’m, like, thrilled that this is happening.

megan twohey

Why are you so thrilled?

e. jean carroll

Because it’s Donald Trump, and I’ve got — it’s a thing. It is a thing. It’s like — it’s just delicious, because he’s stopping. He asked me for my advice. It’s for a girl, right up my alley. I’m just thinking, this is it. And at that point he said, lingerie. Or maybe he said panties, he may have said underwear. But I had the impression, and we started to go up the escalator. We went to whatever floor the lingerie was on, and we walked in, there was a counter on the left. And there was nobody there. And there was a — it looked like a filmy, sort of see-through — great. And when he picked it up, I could see it was a bodysuit. He said, go put this on. I thought, you put it on! And then to see him really sort of — I’m thinking, this is terrific. This is terrific.

carol martin

It’s a little —

e. jean carroll

He says, it looks like it would fit you. I said no, it goes with your eyes. And he — there was a little bit of banter back and forth, which I was loving, and I was laughing, and he went like this towards the dressing room. And I’m thinking, I am actually laughing out loud, thinking, I’m going to make him put this bodysuit over his pants. That is the scheme. And I’m thinking, it’s going to be the funniest thing I have ever seen in my — I have got a picture in my head as we’re walking, him going like this and putting it on. That’s what I’m thinking. And we walk in the dressing room. I’m in front of it. I pass in front of him. He shuts the door, and just pushes me against the wall, boom. And kissed me. And I was continuing to laugh. And that’s when I started to push him back, and that’s when he started to lean forward. And that’s when he put his weight against me. And I must have started to stamp at this time. And he has two free hands, because his shoulder is here.

megan twohey

His shoulder is leaning into you?

e. jean carroll

Yeah. Holding me against the thing. And one of his hands went under in between the flaps my coat, and pulled down my tights, not off, but way down. And he ran his fingers around, looking. Anyway, whatever he was doing, he was looking for my vagina, I guess. And it hurt. And so it had to be with the other hand, as he held me, he unzipped his pants. Now, he could have unbuckled them, I don’t know. He could have unbuttoned them. But pretty soon, he had the tights down, his penis in this hand, and inserted it briefly. I don’t think it was all the way. I don’t. And it was not long. Let’s not put a time limit on it. I’m struggling. How long could it have been? Couldn’t be long.

megan twohey

And what did you do next?

e. jean carroll

I may have tried to hit him with my purse, I don’t know. I don’t know what I did with his hand. I have no idea. The thing I clearly remember is this. [STAMPING FEET] That’s what I clearly remember.

megan twohey

Trying to stomp his feet?

e. jean carroll

Well, I have to get my knee up to get him off. Right? I got this knee up, just slightly enough to back up.

lisa birnbach

Were you talking? Was he talking?

e. jean carroll

No, I didn’t say a word. Anyway. So push him up, backed up. And then I just went down, out. Either went in the escalator, or the elevator. I don’t know. Got to the ground floor.

megan twohey

E. Jean describes running out of the department store onto the street.

e. jean carroll

Went out through the building, got to Fifth Avenue, had my purse, because I picked up my phone.

megan twohey

Reaching into her purse, picking up her phone, and calling Lisa.

megan twohey

And Lisa, what do you remember about this moment?

lisa birnbach

Well, in 1996 —

megan twohey

And that’s where Lisa’s account of that night begins.

[music]

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

megan twohey

Let’s start at the beginning. So you go out. You run out of the store. You stop. You reach into your purse. You pull out your phone.

e. jean carroll

That’s — yeah.

megan twohey

And you say, I’m going to call?

e. jean carroll

Lisa.

michael barbaro

And what does Lisa say?

megan twohey

Lisa is home. She’s on the Upper East Side.

lisa birnbach

That would have been dinnertime for me.

megan twohey

She’s home alone with her two children.

lisa birnbach

I had a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old.

megan twohey

And she says that at first, both women sort of describe this phone call starting with E. Jean laughing.

lisa birnbach

She’s breathless, and laughing.

michael barbaro

Why laughing?

e. jean carroll

This is going to be the funniest thing I’ve ever thought up. This is hilarious. So I came out with this — I got to tell somebody. So I told Lisa.

megan twohey

You know, she had adrenaline coursing through her body. She was just looking for a release from what had just happened. And in her mind, as she tells it, she’d gone into this exchange with Trump sort of seeing it as, like, good material. Like, a great story.

lisa birnbach

I remember her saying repeatedly, he pulled down my tights.

megan twohey

As Lisa tells it, she, at first, was laughing along.

lisa birnbach

He pulled down my tights, which got me to think that was as far as it went.

megan twohey

But as the story continued, she stopped laughing, and started to realize that what E. Jean was describing sounded to her like rape.

lisa birnbach

Honestly, you did say, he put his penis in me. And I said — my face just did it. What? He raped you? And you said, eh. He kept pulling down — he pulled down my tights. He pulled down my tights.

megan twohey

And Lisa was emphatic. She said what you’re describing is a rape, and you should go to the police.

lisa birnbach

It just — it was horrible. We fought. And I said, let’s go to the police. No. Come to my house. No. I want to go home. I’ll take you to the police. No. It was 15 minutes of my life, it’s over. Don’t ever tell anybody. I just had to tell you.

megan twohey

E. Jean, while, I think, at this point, had stopped laughing, was not seeing this within a criminal framework.

e. jean carroll

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.

lisa birnbach

Well, you felt —

e. jean carroll

It’s happened to me before.

lisa birnbach

You felt you encouraged it, probably.

e. jean carroll

Oh, yeah. I know I did. I know I did. Oh, advise you? Fabulous. Lingerie? Great. The story, it was getting better and better. It was getting better and better.

megan twohey

So you felt responsibility for what had happened?

e. jean carroll

100 percent.

michael barbaro

So what does E. Jean do after getting off the phone with Lisa?

megan twohey

As she tells it, she drove home.

e. jean carroll

I had a big yellow Cadillac convertible, gorgeous, 1964. And I drove home.

megan twohey

And crawled into bed.

michael barbaro

And at what point does she tell her other friend, Carol, about this experience?

megan twohey

So they can’t be sure of the exact timing of that conversation. E. Jean has described it as, like, between one and three days after the alleged attack.

e. jean carroll

We sat in the kitchen.

carol martin

We sat in the kitchen, that I remember.

michael barbaro

And what is the conversation?

carol martin

From what I could sense of you, you were, A, you were handling it, as you handle things. She doesn’t break down easily on anything. And there was none of that, as you told me. It wasn’t like she started crying, or nothing that was a frantic kind of response to it. It was like, I can’t believe this happened.

megan twohey

As they tell it at that point, E. Jean is not laughing anymore about this. And she’s piecing it together. It’s kind of slowly sinking in what she’s describing. And Carol ultimately had a different response than Lisa.

carol martin

I said, don’t tell anybody. I wouldn’t tell anybody this.

megan twohey

Her instinct was to say, listen, Donald Trump is a powerful man. He’s got numerous lawyers. I would not tell anybody about this.

michael barbaro

And whose advice does E. Jean take?

megan twohey

As they tell it, after these two separate conversations, these women never spoke of the alleged attack again. They kind of went on with their lives and their friendships. And even during the presidential race, when these women were coming forward, and the “Access Hollywood” tape is coming out, as she tells it, she does not feel compelled to talk about this either publicly, or even privately.

megan twohey

I mean, a question would be why you chose not to say something in 2016?

e. jean carroll

Shocking as it sounds, I thought it would help him. And shocking as it sounds, I was correct.

megan twohey

Why did you think it would help him, the women coming forward with allegations of groping?

e. jean carroll

Because it is a masculine, powerful, leader-like thing to do to take what you want, to have as many women for your own pleasure as you can take.

michael barbaro

So for 20 years, E. Jean does not talk about this allegation, with either of these two friends, who she told right away, or with the public. Not through the campaign, not after the campaign. Just now, in a book form. I wonder if that’s raising some skepticism because she is now selling a book.

megan twohey

Sure. I think people are entitled to skepticism. But I think that if you sort of step back and dissect this a little bit more, you’re looking at somebody who got, as we understand it, a very modest advance for this book. I don’t think that the people who are involved in it were expecting it to be a big seller. Otherwise, they probably would have paid her more money. This is not, like, a tell-all book about her experience with Trump. Her account of this alleged attack takes place within a sort of 11-page chapter in a book that weaves together the stories of many men she’s encountered over the years, and the voices of other women. And she also, if this was designed to be a big, public, hard swing against the president, it was packaged in a really unconventional way. Because for all of this kind of vivid description that she provides of this alleged attack, she doesn’t call it rape.

megan twohey

It is pretty well established, at least under criminal law, that forced penetration without consent is considered rape. And yet you yourself, even all these many years later, after you’ve chosen to finally come forward with this account of what happened, and write about it in your book, that you yourself have not used the term that Lisa used back in ‘96, when she first heard your story. That you, even now, will not describe it, or don’t consider it rape? Or —

e. jean carroll

Every woman gets to choose her word. Every woman gets to choose how she describes it. This is my way of saying it. This is my word. My word is fight. My word is not the victim word. I am not — I have not been raped. Something has not been done to me. I fought. That’s the thing. It’s —

megan twohey

So I actually really tried to press her on this.

megan twohey

In addition to sort of writing a good book and having your own personal reckoning over these incidents that you’ve experienced, was there a broader reason now to put this, specifically this allegation against Trump out into the world, at this moment in time? Did you have any intention — any other intentions, in terms of going public with this particular account at this particular moment in time? Do you want or expect it to have an impact? And if so, what would that be?

e. jean carroll

I had no expectations. None. I’ve learned as a woman of 76 years to have absolutely no expectations. Because if you have even a half an expectation, you will be disappointed. So I have no expectation.

[music]

michael barbaro

Megan, I’ve been thinking as you’ve been talking about another woman who came forward just before the 2016 election with an allegation against the president, Jessica Leeds. You and I ended up both meeting her in our reporting in 2016. And I wonder if you’ve also been thinking about her, too, in relation to this story.

megan twohey

She was one of the first people who came to mind, and she actually sent me an email this week because she’s tracked the various allegations that have come out since she went on the record, in a story in The New York Times with us. And it’s interesting. I heard echoes of Jessica Leeds in my conversations with E. Jean. She and E. Jean Carroll are around the same age. I mean, their stories are different. Jessica Leeds describes a moment when she happened to sit next to Donald Trump on an airplane, and him reaching over, and as she tells it, groping her during the course of the flight. But you can hear echoes in the way that they talk about these encounters. These two women, being working women of an earlier era, and which, as they’ve described it, their encounters with Trump were among many encounters of bad behavior that they experienced at the hands of men.

e. jean carroll

For somebody who was born during World War II, I don’t think it’s that unusual.

megan twohey

Just kind of being out in the world, and that their encounters with Trump, they didn’t forget them, but they kind of got woven into the fabric and experience of being a working woman out in the world in these earlier years.

e. jean carroll

If you think all the men that a woman can encounter in 76 years on a planet that has men everywhere, and when you think of all the men who grab you, pinch you, pummel you, throw you down, roger you, the amazing fact about the book is that there are 21. And the surprising thing is that there are not double or triple that.

megan twohey

And yet, if you look at what E. Jean is describing, this is by far the most serious allegation that’s been made against the president ever.

megan twohey

So I know that the way that you describe this, the sort of clever idea for getting rid of men is a clever idea, in many ways a clever story. Is there something about this particular book, and these particular allegations, at this particular moment, that go beyond a good story? Or do you still see it in the context of that?

e. jean carroll

I see it in the context. I had this list. You dropped the Weinstein bomb, and the memories started coming back. I hadn’t remembered being raped as a five-year-old girl until this trip. I hadn’t remembered the babysitter. And boy, when I got this list, that list just took over the book. It just took over the book, and I was driven to get this book down. He was just a part of that. Just a part. O.K. A big, golden, shiny part, but just a part.

[music]

michael barbaro

Megan, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

megan twohey

Thanks so much for having me.

michael barbaro

Later today, Megan Twohey and our colleagues Jessica Bennett and Alexandra Alter will be publishing a profile of E. Jean Carroll and her allegation against the president. We’ll be right back.

[music]

michael barbaro

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording (chuck todd)

Who is the geopolitical threat to the United States?

archived recording (jay inslee)

The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump.

[crowd cheering]

michael barbaro

In the first Democratic debate of the 2020 campaign, the candidates attacked President Trump’s management of the economy and immigration, but differed on how aggressively to transform the country.

archived recording (elizabeth warren)

When you’ve got a government, when you’ve got an economy that does great for those with money, and isn’t doing great for everyone else, that is corruption, pure and simple.

michael barbaro

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts set the tone for the party’s liberal wing, declaring in her first answer that the system was rigged.

archived recording (elizabeth warren)

We need to call it out. We need to attack it head-on. And we need to make structural change in our government, in our economy, and in our country.

[applause]

michael barbaro

The candidates clashed over whether to provide free college education, decriminalize illegal border crossings, and abolish private health care. Just two of the 10 candidates on stage, Warren and Bill de Blasio, said they supported an exclusively government-run health care system.

archived recording (amy klobuchar)

I am just simply concerned about kicking half of America off of their health insurance in four years.

michael barbaro

A second Democratic debate featuring 10 additional candidates will be held tonight. We’ll cover both of the debates on Friday’s episode of the show.

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