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‘No idea who this woman is’: Looking at Trump’s familiar defense in light of E. Jean Carroll case
E. Jean Carroll, center, walks out of Manhattan federal court May 9, 2023, in New York. A jury found Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in 1996, awarding her $5 million. (AP) E. Jean Carroll, center, walks out of Manhattan federal court May 9, 2023, in New York. A jury found Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in 1996, awarding her $5 million. (AP)

E. Jean Carroll, center, walks out of Manhattan federal court May 9, 2023, in New York. A jury found Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing the advice columnist in 1996, awarding her $5 million. (AP)

Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone May 10, 2023

A jury in a civil lawsuit May 9 found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll in 1996 at a New York department store and for defaming her after she went public in 2019 with her allegations.

It awarded a $5 million judgment against Trump, who soon after the verdict lashed out on Truth Social, his social media platform, repeating a claim he’s made consistently over the past few years.

"I have absolutely no idea who this woman is," he wrote, calling the verdict a "disgrace" and part of a continued "witch hunt" against him. 

Trump said something similar in 2019 when Carroll first publicly accused him, releasing a statement that said, "I’ve never met this person in my life."

The claim that Trump doesn’t know Carroll may sound familiar. It’s one Trump has used often when confronted with accusations from women or to distance himself from people in his orbit whose association may embarrass him.

After four women came forward at a 2017 news conference with allegations of sexual misconduct, Trump tweeted the next day that Democrats were moving on from Russia to "false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met."

Trump has also claimed to not know people very well that he nominated for government posts or who worked in the White House.

When Trump first met Carroll

Carroll alleged that Trump raped her in 1995 or 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in New York. Carroll, an advice columnist for Elle magazine for more than two decades, first made the allegation public in 2019 in an excerpt published in New York magazine from her memoir, "What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal." The jury in the civil trial did not find that Trump raped Carroll.

At the trial, she described what she said began as a chance encounter at the store when Trump asked her to help pick out a gift for a woman friend. She described "jesting and joshing" banter, but things soon turned violent in the dressing room, where she said Trump pushed her up against a wall and assaulted her, according to The New York Times.

Trump denied the allegation when it was first made, saying he had never met Carroll and accusing her of trying to boost book sales. Those denials led Carroll to file a defamation lawsuit against Trump in 2019. That lawsuit has been hung up in court because Trump’s initial statements were made while he was president, NPR reported. She filed a new lawsuit in 2022 that included new statements from Trump, and added a battery claim under New York’s Adult Survivor’s Act, which gave sexual assault survivors more time to file civil lawsuits, The New York Times reported. 

Former President Donald Trump, E. Jean Carroll, John Johnson and Ivana Trump met at a party in 1987, Carroll said. (New York District Court documents)

Trump and Carroll had crossed paths at least once before the alleged attack. Carroll testified that a black-and-white photo showing her next to Trump, along with her then-husband, John Johnson, and Trump’s then-wife Ivana Trump, was taken in 1987 at an NBC or ABC party. 

Carroll said in an Oct. 22 deposition that the four of them spoke for about five or six minutes. She also said then that she and Trump exchanged waves on a New York street in 1995 or 1996, but didn’t speak.

Trump in his deposition was asked whether a statement he made June 19, 2019, that he had never met Carroll was true. He said it was true at the time but he has since seen a photo of him and Carroll, which he said was taken in a receiving line at a charity or celebrity event.

"I think I was either shaking her hand or her husband’s hand on a receiving line," he said in the exchange which began at the video’s 15:48 mark. "Like I say, I shake a lot of hands with people. But I had no idea who she was."

When shown the photo in a deposition, Trump pointed at Carroll and said, "It’s Marla," confusing Carroll with Marla Maples, his second wife, before being corrected by his attorney. He then said the photo was "very blurry."

A familiar defense for Trump

After Trump’s 2017 tweet in which he spoke of women he had never even met, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then the White House press secretary, said Trump was referring only to the four accusers at the news conference. 

That was not clear from Trump’s tweet, though. PolitiFact reviewed 17 cases of women who made allegations of inappropriate behavior or sexual misconduct and determined that Trump knew or had met at least eight of his accusers.

For example:

  • Summer Zervos and Jennifer Murphy had each said Trump kissed them on the mouth. Zervos said he grabbed her breast. Both were contestants on Trump’s reality show, "The Apprentice."

  • Natasha Stoynoff, a People magazine journalist, in 2005 said Trump pushed her up against a wall at Mar-a-Lago where she was sent to interview him and forced his tongue down her throat.

  • Jill Harth settled a sexual harassment suit aginst Trump in 1997. She said she had to fight him off when she was at Mar-a-Lago to close a business deal. A photo of the two from 1993 was circulating on Twitter.

  • Several accusers were participants in beauty pageants run by Trump, who on a radio interview with Howard Stern talked about walking freely into the women’s dressing rooms.

Trump has often claimed he doesn’t know someone or doesn’t know them well over the past few years other times not related to sexual misconduct accusations, such as when people he knows testified against him.

Here are just a few examples: 

  • When Gordon Sondland — the man he appointed to be U.S. ambassador to the European Union — was testifying in Trump’s first impeachment about his dealings with Ukraine, the former president said "I don’t know him very well." The two men may not have been close, but they were hardly strangers, PolitiFact wrote in 2019.

  • When Prince Andrew was in the spotlight over his friendship with convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Trump said, "I don't know Prince Andrew." NBC News reported that statement came despite a 2000 video of an interview with Trump in which he called the prince "a lot of fun to be with." Trump also sought to distance himself from Epstein in 2019 after Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges, saying they had a falling out and he hadn’t spoken to him in years. The Washington Post reported that Trump and Epstein had often partied together before they fell out over a real estate deal.

  • When Cassidy Hutchinson, a White House aide, gave damaging testimony about him on national television to the House Select Committee to Investigate Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, Trump dismissed her by writing on Truth Social, "I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is."

Staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report

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Our Sources

Donald Trump, Truth Social post, May 9, 2023

Court Listener, "Carroll v. Trump Exhibit A ," accessed May 9, 2023

Laura Litvan, tweet, June 21, 2019

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump says he doesn’t know his accusers. Does he?," Dec. 15, 2017

CBS News, "Video of Trump's E. Jean Carroll deposition made public amid lawsuit trial," May 5, 2023

NBC News, "Ex-wives, 'Access Hollywood' and a 'big fat hoax': Notable moments from Trump's deposition in the E. Jean Carroll case," May 4, 2023

NBC News, YouTube, "Watch all released portions of Trump's deposition in E. Jean Carroll case," May 5, 2023

NPR, "A jury finds Trump liable for battery and defamation in E. Jean Carroll trial," May 9, 2023

The Associated Press, "Jury finds Trump liable for sexual abuse, awards accuser $5M," May 9, 2023

The New York Times, "E. Jean Carroll described an assault in minute detail," May 9, 2023

The New York Times, "Writer who accused Trump of rape to file new defamation lawsuit," Nov. 17, 2022

New York magazine, " Hideous Men: Donald Trump assaulted me in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room 23 years ago. But he’s not alone on the list of awful men in my life." June 19, 2019

The Hill, "EXCLUSIVE: Trump vehemently denies E. Jean Carroll allegation, says ‘She’s not my type,’" June 24, 2019

PolitiFact, "Fact-check: Donald Trump's claim he doesn’t know Gordon Sondland very well," Nov. 20, 2019

NBC News, "Trump claims he doesn't know Prince Andrew, but once called him 'a lot of fun,'" Dec. 14, 2019

The Associated Press, "Cassidy Hutchinson, Trump White House aide, now in spotlight," June 28, 2022

Business Insider, "20 people who Trump has personally known and then claimed he didn't," Jan. 28, 2020

Time, "Trump keeps saying he 'never met' people he clearly knows. Here's why," May 3, 2019

USA Today, "'I don't know him': The many times Donald Trump's acquaintances suddenly became strangers," Nov. 23, 2019

The Washington Post, "Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein partied together. Then an oceanfront Palm Beach mansion came between them.," July 31, 2019

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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‘No idea who this woman is’: Looking at Trump’s familiar defense in light of E. Jean Carroll case