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'Access Hollywood' tape can be used as evidence in civil case against Trump, judge rules

Lawyers for the former president had sought to exclude the notorious recording from the defamation case brought by a writer who's accused Trump of raping her in the 1990s.
E. Jean Carroll at her home in New York state on June 21, 2019.
E. Jean Carroll at her home in New York state on June 21, 2019.Eva Deitch for The Washington Post via Getty Images file

The notorious "Access Hollywood" tape that captured Donald Trump saying he can grope women without their consent can be used as evidence in writer E. Jean Carroll's defamation suit against the former president, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The judge also ruled that he would allow testimony from two women who say they were sexually assaulted by Trump in different decades, allegations that Trump has denied and testimony that his lawyers also sought to exclude.

Asked about the ruling, Trump lawyer Alina Habba said, "We maintain the utmost confidence that our client will be vindicated at the upcoming trial."

Carroll attorney Roberta Kaplan declined to comment.

In the 2005 hot mic "Access Hollywood" video, Trump can be heard saying, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he said, including “grab ‘em by the p----.”

Lawyers for Trump sought to bar the tape from being used during the civil trial in Carroll's case against Trump, which is scheduled to start in federal court in Manhattan on April 10.

A second related case — in which Carroll is suing Trump for the alleged rape and a different defamatory comment — is set to begin before the same judge on April 25.

Trump's attorneys argued in court filings the tape is “irrelevant and highly prejudicial,” and does “not even tangentially relate to the core of [Carroll’s] claim” that Trump raped her in the changing room of a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s and then lied about his actions when Carroll went public with her accusation.

Trump has denied the rape charge and has called Carroll's claims "a hoax."

In his ruling Friday, New York-based District Judge Lewis Kaplan agreed with Trump's lawyers that Carroll wanted to use the tape to show their client has a "propensity for sexual assault" and that type of "propensity" evidence is typically not allowed in a civil trial.

The judge noted there is an exception, however, saying "'evidence that the [defendant] committed any other sexual assault' may be admitted in 'a civil case involving a claim for relief based on a party's alleged sexual assault,'" and he concluded that was the case here.

The judge noted that Trump has dismissed his comments in the tape as "locker room talk" and might be able to make other arguments about what he was saying as well, but at this point "a jury could reasonably find" that "Trump admitted in the Access Hollywood tape that he has in fact had contact with women's genitalia in the past without their consent, or that he has attempted to do so."

The judge used the same rationale to say he would also allow testimony from two other women who say Trump sexually assaulted them, Jessica Leeds and Natasha Stoynoff.

In her deposition in the case, Leeds testified that Trump started groping her and putting his hand up her skirt when she was seated next to him in a flight from Texas to New York in 1979, the judge wrote. She said she was able to free herself and move to another seat.

Leeds said she ran into Trump at some point afterwards in New York, and he told her, “I remember you. You’re the c--- from the airplane.”

"Mr. Trump has claimed Ms. Leeds is a liar and that such event ever occurred. And he will be entitled to make that argument to the jury," the judge wrote.

Stoynoff testified she had her encounter with Trump in 2005, when she went to interview him and his wife, Melania, for People magazine.

She said he offered to show her a painting in one of the rooms and then closed the door behind her, grabbed her shoulders, "pushed me against this wall and starts kissing me."

She said she pushed him back twice before he was interrupted by a butler coming into the room.

"Mr. Trump has denied publicly any such occurrence ever happened," the judge wrote. "He of course will be entitled to do so before the jury. And the jury could credit Mr. Trump's testimony in preference to Ms. Stoynoff's. But that is for another day."

CORRECTION (March 10, 2023, 5:21 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when the civil trial in Carroll’s case against Trump is scheduled to begin. It’s April 10, not April 25.