Stormy Daniels, E Jean Carroll, Fani Willis: The women trying to take down Trump

From a string of alleged affairs to that infamous Access Hollywood tape and multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, the former president has a sometimes antagonistic relationship with women. Now, some of them are at the forefront of trying to secure criminal convictions against him. Kelly Rissman reports

Wednesday 08 May 2024 21:15 BST
Donald Trump (left) is on trial over hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels (right)
Donald Trump (left) is on trial over hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels (right) (Getty)

“People are really vicious, and no place are they more vicious than in their relationships with the opposite sex,” Donald Trump wrote in his 1997 book Trump: The Art of the Comeback.

Based on his own personal, professional and private life, the former president may never have said a truer word.

A brief glance at the history of Donald Trump reveals a sometimes tricky (to put it mildly) relationship with women.

He has been married three times – with his current wife Melania rarely seen with him even as he ramps up his latest presidential campaign for this year’s election.

He has been outed for having multiple alleged affairs – one, notably, with adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford).

He has bragged about being able to “grab ‘em by the p****” – a phrase he later brushed off as “locker room” talk.

And, most seriously, he has been accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women, including one case where he was found liable by a jury of sexually assaulting former Elle columnist E Jean Carroll.

So it is perhaps unsurprising and fitting that, as he is now the first current or former US president to go on criminal trial, his relationship with women is central to the case.

E. Jean Carroll recalls facing Trump in court: ‘He was nothing’

Mr Trump’s first criminal trial, which began on Monday 15 April, sees him charged with 34 counts of falsifying business documents in a scheme to silence women he had alleged affairs with and hide his alleged reputation as a disloyal husband from voters ahead of the 2016 election.

And this trial is just the beginning.

At the heart of many of the former president’s civil and criminal cases, and potentially holding the power to bring Trump down, are women.

Stormy Daniels and the hush money case

Adult film star Stormy Daniels is at the centre of the hush money case, her and the $130,000 (£105,000) payment she received in exchange for her signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) to stop her from speaking out about her alleged affair with Mr Trump in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

At the time of the alleged affair in 2006, Mr Trump was just one year into his marriage to his third and current wife Melania.

The alleged affair did come out, however, in 2018 – after he had entered the White House.

Daniels has been subject to relentless abuse from Trump’s avid supporters
Daniels has been subject to relentless abuse from Trump’s avid supporters (Screenshot / TalkTV)

Since then, Mr Trump has fallen into a pattern of denial, though he has changed his tune about the affair and the associated payments over time.

In 2018, the White House denied the affair took place at all, then months later confirmed that an NDA did indeed exist between Ms Daniels and Mr Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen. By January 2023, Mr Trump was taking a somewhat different approach on his social media platform Truth Social: “With respect to the ‘Stormy’ nonsense, it is VERY OLD & happened a long time ago, long past the very publicly known & accepted deadline of the Statute of Limitations.”

While his comments have varied about the circumstances, one thing has been consistent: his penchant for vitriolic name-calling and derogatory attacks directed towards Ms Daniels.

Mr Trump has repeatedly branded Ms Daniels “horseface” on social media. He also allegedly told aides that she wasn’t his type, The Washington Post reported in 2018.

The disparaging rhetoric has spread among the Republican candidate’s base. In her new 2024 documentary Stormy, Ms Daniels says his supporters have joined in calling her other misogynistic names, like “liar”, “s***” and “gold digger”.

After Mr Trump was hit with criminal charges, the remarks turned from derogatory to violent, she says. Some of the most jarring threats included “I’m going to come to your house and slit your throat” and “Your daughter should be euthanised”.

Looking back, Ms Daniels says in the film that in 2016 she was “f***ing terrified” and so was actually “very relieved” at the prospect of keeping the affair quiet. She also felt safer in the fact that there would be a “paper trail and money trail linking me to Donald Trump so that he could not have me killed”.

In 2018, Ms Daniels brought a defamation lawsuit against Mr Trump, but it was dismissed by a judge who ruled that she must actually pay for Mr Trump’s legal fees.

Ahead of the trial over the hush money payments, Mr Trump tried to block Ms Daniels from giving testimony in the case. The judge rejected his efforts and Ms Daniels has revealed her intentions to share her story on the witness stand.

In a subsequent court filing, Mr Trump’s attorneys revealed they tried to serve Ms Daniels with a subpoena to testify in the case back in March – but that she refused to take it. The process server had approached Ms Daniels as she arrived at the 3 Dollar Bill nightclub in Brooklyn on the night of the screening of her new documentary Stormy, the filing states. She allegedly walked past the server and failed to take the papers, leaving him to “leave them at her feet”.

Though Ms Daniels has described her sexual encounter with Mr Trump as consensual, Ms Daniels claims in Stormy that she didn’t want to go through with it.

“To this day, I blame myself and I have not forgiven myself because I didn’t shut his a** down in that moment, so maybe make him pause before he tried it with someone else,” she said. “The hardest part about all of this is I feel like I am partially responsible for every woman that could have come after me.”

Ms Daniels isn’t the first or the last woman to come forward with claims of unwanted sexual advances from the former president – some more serious than others.

Daniels testifies about the encounter in Trump’s hotel penthouse, showing how she found Trump in his bedroom lying on his bed
Daniels testifies about the encounter in Trump’s hotel penthouse, showing how she found Trump in his bedroom lying on his bed (AP)

Finally, her time on the stand arrived. On May 7, Ms Daniels testified in Mr Trump’s hush-money trial in Manhattan, revealing intricate details about her now-infamous encounter with Mr Trump.

She told the court that she met the former president in July 2006 while he was playing in a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe.

Mr Trump invited Ms Daniels to dinner – which never actually happened, she testified. Instead, the then-27-year-old adult film star said she went to meet 60-year-old Mr Trump at his penthouse suite.

She testified that she arrived at his hotel room to be greeted by Mr Trump in Hugh Hefner-like silk pajamas. They spoke for around two hours, she said, during which time she recalled that she “swatted him right on the butt” with a rolled-up magazine and he told her that she reminded him of his daughter.

At one point, she left the bathroom to find Mr Trump in his boxers and T-shirt on the bed. Following, the sexual encounter, she said she felt “ashamed”.

Jurors also heard about the $130,000 payment paid to her by Michael Cohen for her silence – the payment now at the heart of Mr Trump’s criminal case.

Under cross-examination, a defense attorney asked Ms Daniels whether she “hated” Mr Trump. She said “yes”.

When asked if she wants him to go to jail, she carefully replied: “I want him to be held accountable… If he’s found guilty, absolutely.”

That Access Hollywood tape

In 2005, a year before their alleged affair and the same year he married Melania, Mr Trump was caught bragging about how he fondles women without their consent in the now infamous Access Hollywood tape.

The notorious conversation occurred as Mr Trump and Billy Bush, then-host of Access Hollywood, were about to meet actor Arianne Zucker.

It’s unclear who he was talking about, but Mr Trump admitted: “I did try and f*** her. She was married.”

He then added: “Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big, phony t**s and everything. She’s totally changed her look.”

Then, after spotting Ms Zucker, Mr Trump said: “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – 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 continued. “Grab ‘em by the p****. You can do anything.”

The infamous tape of Donald Trump’s misogynistic rant is from a 2004 episode of ‘Access Hollywood’
The infamous tape of Donald Trump’s misogynistic rant is from a 2004 episode of ‘Access Hollywood’ ((Access – YouTube))

When the clip resurfaced in 2016 just ahead of the presidential election, the Republican nominee dismissed his comments as simply “locker room banter” and a “private conversation”.

One month later, he was elected president of the United States.

Beyond the former president’s boastful comments caught on tape, the book All the President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator also documented 26 alleged incidents of “unwanted sexual contact” with Mr Trump over the years.

Among the names on this long list was former Elle columnist E Jean Carroll.

Sexual abuse of E Jean Carroll

In June 2019, E Jean Carroll wrote an article accusing the former president of raping her in the Bergdorf Goodman department store in Manhattan in the 1990s.

Mr Trump instantly denied the allegations, fuming that she was “totally lying”. His denial also turned to one of his familiar insults for women, saying that Ms Carroll is “not my type”.

Ms Carroll sued him for defamation in November of that year. In November 2022, she sued him again.

Mr Trump repeatedly claimed he had never met her and therefore never sexually assaulted her. A photo revealed the former to be false and a jury also determined the latter to be false.

E Jean Carroll won her case against the former president
E Jean Carroll won her case against the former president (AP)

In May 2023, the former president was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation and was ordered to pay Ms Carroll more than $83m in damages. He continues to fight the allegations and has since posted bond to appeal the verdicts.

Every time the former president posted online about Ms Carroll or her allegations, she said she faced a “wave of slime”. And he has continued to brand Ms Carroll a liar even after she successfully sued him for defamation.

“I just posted a $91m bond on a fake story. Totally made up story,” Mr Trump said this March. “Based on false accusations made about me by a woman that I knew nothing about, didn’t know, never heard of it. I know nothing about her.”

The attacks didn’t stop at Ms Carroll either – they also extended to her lawyer Roberta Kaplan.

In February, Ms Kaplan said that Mr Trump used a well-known coded expression to call her a “c***” during a deposition. She said she wasn’t familiar with the phrase.

“Had I known, I for sure would have gotten angry,” Ms Kaplan said. “I looked like I was being above it all, which I wasn’t. I just did not know.”

Fani Willis and Letitia James: The women hitting him with the law

Beyond the women who personally encountered Mr Trump, the former president also has a penchant for attacking the women who – through their roles as some of the top prosecutors in the country – have sought to pursue him with the long arm of the law.

Fani Willis, the Fulton County District Attorney who is pursuing a sprawling Rico case against the former president and more than a dozen of his allies, has repeatedly been the subject of disparaging names and hate-filled Truth Social rants.

Fani Willis has accused Trump and his team of ‘playing the race card’ due to the scrutiny she’s received
Fani Willis has accused Trump and his team of ‘playing the race card’ due to the scrutiny she’s received (Alyssa Pointer/Pool Photo via AP)

Mr Trump has also repeatedly claimed the Black woman is “racist” – while throwing what appears to be racist claims her way.

“There’s a young racist in Atlanta ... They say she was after a certain gang and she ended up having an affair with the head of the gang or a gang member,” Mr Trump said during a speech in New Hampshire in August, referring to Nathan Wade, her former romantic partner and the former prosecutor on the case.

Mr Trump and his co-defendants have even tried to get her removed from the case altogether.

After a long drawn-out series of hearings on the matter, Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee decided Ms Willis and her office could stay on the case, as long as Mr Wade resigned. So he did.

Mr Trump and his co-defendants have since appealed Judge McAfee’s ruling.

For Ms Willis, the attacks levelled against her have a double edge. In an address at a church service on Martin Luther King holiday weekend, Ms Willis said Mr Trump and his legal team were “playing the race card” because both Ms Willis and Mr Wade are Black – pointing out that the other private attorneys hired by her office, who are white, have not faced similar scrutiny.

In response, Mr Trump’s team accused Ms Willis of injecting “racial animus” to “divert and distract” from the alleged misconduct.

Trump has called Letitia James a ‘nutjob’
Trump has called Letitia James a ‘nutjob’ (AP)

Mr Trump has levelled similar attacks at New York Attorney General Letitia James, the Black female prosecutor who brought a colossal civil fraud case against Mr Trump.

The former president has called her “racist,” a “raging maniac” and “leftist nutjob”. He has also referred to her as “Peekaboo”, prompting some to in turn call Mr Trump racist, since the term rhymes with the “j-word”, an old-fashioned slur for African-Americans.

But can these women take down Trump?

It’s a pattern of allegations by women, followed by personal, aggressive attacks by Mr Trump in return.

But what happens after that? Can these women really take down Trump?

The verdict in the E Jean Carroll trial was damning: a jury found that a man who once was the president of the United States was a sexual abuser.

But it did not take place in criminal court.

At the end of the day, all Mr Trump faced in that case was a fine.

Being held liable for sexual abuse and defamation does not preclude him from running for president. And, based on the ease with which he trounced his Republican rivals in the party’s primaries, it has done little if anything to hamper support from his base.

The court of public opinion has spoken: he was named the 2024 presumptive Republican nominee.

While Ms Carroll’s lawsuit victory may have been the tipping point in the longstanding case of women vs Donald Trump, it showed that one ruling is not enough to topple him.

Despite his legal issues, Trump still won the GOP presidential candidacy easily
Despite his legal issues, Trump still won the GOP presidential candidacy easily (EPA)

The jury is still out on whether all of these cases – and the women involved in them – together can do just that.

In Letitia James’ civil fraud trial against Mr Trump, after much anticipation, he – his two adult sons and several of his businesses – were found liable for fraud and now face a whopping $464m fine in the case. Still, Mr Trump somehow managed to skirt paying that mammoth sum with an appeals court significantly reducing the amount he owed to $175m and giving him a 10-day extension to pay the bond.

Now, all eyes turn to Stormy Daniels and Mr Trump’s first criminal trial.

Ms Daniels may finally have the chance to tell her story in a courtroom without the noise of Mr Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric.

And if convicted, Mr Trump could be sent to prison for his alleged crimes – something no presidential pardon could save him from.

That said, there are no laws barring Mr Trump from running for or serving as president from behind bars.

So, while these women are trying to take on Trump, the impact of his treatment of and reputation with women might truly play out on election day.

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