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Attorneys gave closing arguments in E. Jean Carroll's lawsuit against Trump

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Attorneys in the E. Jean Carroll lawsuit against former President Donald Trump gave their closing arguments today, this after two weeks of testimony in which the former columnist accused Trump of raping her inside a department store changing room in the mid-1990s. And I want to warn you - this report includes graphic descriptions of an alleged rape. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was in the courtroom. And, Andrea, I know today was the final opportunity for attorneys to address jurors. So tell me what E. Jean Carroll's legal team put forward.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: There were two pillars to her lawyer's arguments. One, that 11 witnesses backed up parts of E. Jean Carroll's version of events. Under oath, Carroll described it this way. She said that Donald Trump steered her into a dressing room in the lingerie department of the Bergdorf Goodman department store, pinned her with his shoulder and grabbed her vagina with his fingers before pushing his penis inside her. But she testified she fought him off and immediately called a friend. On the stand, that friend backed up Carroll's account, testifying she got the call while she was feeding her kids dinner. There was another corroborating witness, a former TV anchorwoman. There were store employees. And there were two other women who said they were assaulted in a similar way and others who buttressed Carroll's account. And even though Donald Trump didn't testify, Carroll's lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, argued that to find Trump not liable, the jury would have to disregard all the witnesses and to believe that Trump himself was lying in the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, which the jury saw, when he said he liked to grab women by the genitals because, quote, "when you are a star, they let you do it."

KELLY: All right. So how did the defense handle all that? What did former President Trump's attorneys say?

BERNSTEIN: So his defense attorney and the former president deny anything at all happened. And attorney Joe Tacopina put forward another explanation - that because of their hatred of Trump, E. Jean Carroll and the other two women who testified that Carroll told them what happened back in the 1990s concocted a story of rape. Tacopina noted that Carroll didn't specify a date for the alleged attack, that the two corroborating witnesses didn't discuss the events with Carroll for over 20 years, that there was an email referencing a scheme and another one from the anchorwoman, Carol Martin, to an unidentified party, referring to something that, quote, "never really happened." Tacopina implied that Carroll made up the story based on a 2012 "Law & Order" episode that discussed a rape in a Bergdorf dressing room. On rebuttal, the plaintiff's attorney said all of that was taken out of context, and that if Carroll was lying, she would have done a better job ironing out inconsistencies and gaps in her story.

KELLY: Back to the point you made, Andrea, that Trump did not testify. How did attorneys for both sides address that?

BERNSTEIN: Trump's lawyer said the jurors should make no conclusions about the fact that they put on no witnesses and that he never even showed up in court because the plaintiffs didn't prove their case. But the plaintiffs really made hay out of Trump's lack of testimony. Michael Ferrara, another of Carroll's lawyers, said jurors should conclude Trump didn't attend because it would have hurt his case. Looking straight at the jury, Ferrara said, quote, "he never looked you in the eye and denied raping E. Jean Carroll."

KELLY: And very briefly, this goes to the jury now?

BERNSTEIN: Yes, the jury will receive their instructions from the judge tomorrow and then begin deliberating. They'll have to decide whether the preponderance of the evidence finds Trump sexually assaulted Carroll. It's not a criminal trial. There will be no guilty or not guilty finding. But if found liable, for the first time, a jury of Trump's peers would have found they believed an accuser.

KELLY: Thanks, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein