Who is Natasha Stoynoff? The journalist who testified in the Trump civil rape trial

‘Each new boxing trainer tells Natasha that she should turn professional. Her punch is between hospitalization and murder,’ E Jean Carroll writes about fellow Trump accuser

Gustaf Kilander,Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 10 May 2023 15:00 BST
Trump found liable for sexual abuse

People magazine sent correspondent Natasha Stoynoff to Mar-a-Lago in late 2005 to write a wedding anniversary story about Donald Trump, who had then recently married Melania Knauss.

Almost two decades later, her experience of the future president allegedly “forcing his tongue” down her throat provided essential testimony in the E Jean Carroll civil rape trial in New York City.

On 9 May, the jury in the civil case returned a verdict that Mr Trump was liable for sexually abusing Ms Carroll, but not raping her. Ms Stoynoff took the stand at the Manhattan courthouse on 3 May.

Before joining People magazine, Ms Stoynoff was a reporter and photographer at The Toronto Star, a columnist at The Toronto Sun, and a freelancer for Time Magazine. She then worked for People magazine for almost 20 years. She now writes books and screenplays, according to her bio on Goodreads.

The Trump legal team failed to stop the inclusion of Ms Stoynoff’s testimony in the trial.

Ms Carroll claims that Mr Trump raped her in a Manhattan department store dressing room in 1995 or 1996 and that he later defamed her in 2019 as president when he rejected her allegation.

About a decade after the alleged rape of Ms Carroll, the People magazine journalist was at Mar-a-Lago to interview Mr Trump and his new wife.

“Now, I’m a tall, strapping girl who grew up wrestling two giant brothers. I even once sparred with Mike Tyson. It takes a lot to push me,” Ms Stoynoff wrote in 2016. “But Trump is much bigger – a looming figure – and he was fast, taking me by surprise and throwing me off balance. I was stunned. And I was grateful when Trump’s longtime butler burst into the room a minute later, as I tried to unpin myself.”

“The butler informed us that Melania would be down momentarily, and it was time to resume the interview,” she added.

Mr Trump then asked, “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you?” according to the reporter, adding that the following morning, she went to the spa at the private club, where the receptionist told her Mr Trump had been waiting for her, but that he had left to attend a meeting.

Ms Stoynoff later told her editors to not have her cover Mr Trump again.

Ms Carroll wrote for The Atlantic in 2020 that “each new boxing trainer tells Natasha that she should turn professional. Her punch is between hospitalization and murder”.

About the 2005 incident with Mr Trump, Ms Carroll wrote that Ms Stoynoff “wishes” that she had punched the former president.

Alyssa Shelasky wrote for The Cut that “Stoynoff was my mentor when I worked at People magazine, about ten years ago. She was the brilliant, hilarious, confident, and warm writer who got all the good assignments because Larry Hackett, the editor-in-chief at the time, knew she was the best. Naturally, I worshipped her”.

“Trump is frustrating to interview,” Ms Stoynoff told Ms Carroll in The Atlantic. “If all you need are sound bites, he’s easy. He’s got his one sentence ready for you. If you want something deeper, that’s a challenge. Because he doesn’t do deep.”

Ms Stoynoff noted that Melania Trump was “upstairs changing. Nothing led me to think he would do such a thing,” she said of Mr Trump’s alleged actions.

“I remember it being a dark room,” she said of where the incident took place. “But there are windows, so not too dark. We go in. I’m looking around, wondering what he wants to show me. I hear the door close. I turn around. And he’s right at me, pushing me against the wall.”

In an op-ed for The Washington Post in October 2019, Ms Stoynoff wrote, “After the election, I told myself his supporters hadn’t believed” the women who had stepped into the public arena and accused Mr Trump of misconduct.

“How else could they have voted for such a man? It took months before the cruel truth dawned on me — Trump supporters knew we were telling the truth. They just didn’t care,” she added.

“Within a year of my story being published, the #MeToo movement exploded ... but still, the reckoning skipped Trump,” she wrote at the time.

The journalist wept as she told a jury how she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Mr Trump.

The former People writer told the jury that Mr Trump asked to show her a room at his Palm Beach club in between conducting interviews for the magazine with him and his wife Melania, who was pregnant with their son Barron at the time.

“I hear the door shut behind me, by the time I turn around he has his hands on my shoulder, pushing me up against the wall and he starts kissing me,” she said.

Ms Stoynoff, who now lives in Canada, said that she was “flustered and in shock” as she tried to push Mr Trump away from her.

The alleged encounter lasted a few minutes, and only ended when a Mar-a-Lago butler entered the room, she said.

“I gave (the butler) a ‘get me out of here look’,” Ms Stoynoff said.

As they were walking back to meet Melania, Ms Stoynoff testified that Mr Trump told her: “You know we’re going to have an affair. Don’t forget what (his second wife Marla Maples) said, ‘best sex I ever had’.”

Ms Stoynoff became emotional as she told the court she was in a state of shock and unable to speak. “I choked up, I couldn’t answer him,” she said.

When they met up with Melania, Mr Trump “doted” on his wife, she added.

Ms Stoynoff said she went into “auto-pilot” and tried to pretend the incident never happened while finishing the interviews.

Trump Columnist Lawsuit
Trump Columnist Lawsuit (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

She said she told her former journalism professor and newsroom supervisor at People at the time, but didn’t mention it to anyone more senior as she hadn’t wanted to cause trouble for the magazine.

In October 2016, Ms Stoynoff went public about the alleged incident for the first time in an article for People magazine.

She said she had been “horrified” by the Access Hollywood tape in which Mr Trump had been caught on a hot mic bragging about sexually assaulting women. The tape, recorded in 2005, had emerged two weeks earlier, shortly before the 2016 presidential election.

The jury was shown the two-minute clip, in which Mr Trump states he “automatically” starts kissing women he’s attracted to.

“I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he says in the footage.

Days later, Mr Trump appeared at a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton where he denied ever forcibly kissing a woman without their consent after a direct question from moderator Anderson Cooper.

Natasha Stoynoff, a former People magazine staff writer, testified that former President Donald Trump pinned her against a wall and forcibly kissed her at his Florida mansion when she went there in 2005 to interview him and his then-pregnant wife Melania Trump.
Natasha Stoynoff, a former People magazine staff writer, testified that former President Donald Trump pinned her against a wall and forcibly kissed her at his Florida mansion when she went there in 2005 to interview him and his then-pregnant wife Melania Trump. (AP)

Ms Stoynof told the court she became “sick to her stomach” watching his denials, and spoke to her editors at People about publishing her firsthand account.

“I actually thought to myself, ‘oh he does this to a lot of women’, it’s not just me, it’s not something I did,” she said. “The horrible part was I worried that because I did not say anything that at the time other women were hurt by him. So I had regret there. I thought to myself, ‘you liar’. I just felt really upset that he was lying to the American people.”

Mr Carroll’s attorneys played a clip from a Trump campaign rally in October 2016 which he denied the claim, and disparaged Ms Stoynoff.

Asked by Ms Carroll’s attorney Mike Ferrara what she understood him to mean, Ms Stoynoff replied: “I’m assuming he means that I’m unattractive.”

Ms Stoynoff said she had been assigned to the “Trump beat” in 2003, and interviewed The Apprentice host about 10 times prior to the Mar-a-Lago encounter. He had asked her out to dinner before, but never forced himself on her before, she said.

The jury was then played portions of Mr Trump’s deposition in which he repeated that Ms Carroll had “made up” allegations that he had raped her in a dressing room at the luxury Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman in 1996.

Earlier, Mr Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina told the court that the defence would not be calling any witnesses.

He confirmed their sole expert witness would no longer be appearing. It was also confirmed that Mr Trump would not testify in his own defence.

On 9 May, the jury in the civil case returned a verdict that Mr Trump was liable for sexually abusing Ms Carroll, but not raping her, and awarded the writer a total of $5m in damages, which includes the defamation claim.

In the courtroom, the clerk read the verdict: “As to battery, did Ms Carroll prove that Mr Trump raped Ms Carroll?” The jury answered “No”.

The jury also found Mr Trump liable for wonton disregard, for which Ms Carroll was awarded $20,000, according to Inner City Press.

Mr Trump was also found liable for defamation as the jury found that he made false statements about Ms Carroll.

The jury found that Mr Trump acted with actual malice and that Ms Carroll had been injured, for which she was awarded $1m. For repairing her reputation, Ms Carroll was awarded $1.7m.

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