Who is Jessica Leeds? The Trump accuser testifying about alleged plane assault at E Jean Carroll trial

Businesswoman accuses Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her on flight in late 1970s

Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 02 May 2023 19:20 BST
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Related video: Judge denies request for mistrial from Trump’s attorneys in rape trial

E Jean Carroll, the former Elle magazine columnist, has been given evidence at the Moynihan federal courthouse in Manhattan, New York, during a civil trial in which she accuses the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump, of rape.

Ms Carroll alleges that Mr Trump sexually assaulted her in the changing rooms of the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the mid-1990s, an accusation he has denied.

The veteran writer is one of at least 26 women who have made historic sexual assault allegations against Mr Trump.

Another accuser who offered her testimony in court is Jessica Leeds, a businesswoman who has said the former president attacked her on a flight from Dallas or Atlanta to New York in 1978 or 1979, when she was 37.

Ms Leeds – originally from Springfield, Missouri, the daughter of an Oscar Mayer cattle buyer and the executive secretary to the city manager – was based in Connecticut at the time and worked as a travelling salesperson for a company that supplied paper to other businesses.

She has claimed in a deposition that a stewardess promoted her to first class and she found herself sitting next to Mr Trump on the flight and that after a “cordial” conversation with him following the in-flight meal, he started “grabbing me, trying to kiss me, grabbing my breasts, pulling me towards him, pulling himself on me”.

“It was when he started putting his hand up my skirt that I realised that nobody was going to save me but me, and I was on the aisle, I managed to wheel my way out of the chair, and grabbed my purse, and I went back to my seat in the back.”

Ms Leeds took the stand on Tuesday 2 May.

“I was invited up to the first-class cabin. I was the only woman there. Donald Trump introduced himself,” Ms Leeds said, later adding that he “grabbed me and groped me. It was like he had forty zillion hands. He put his hand up my skirt. That gave me a jolt. I wiggled out and stormed back to coach”.

Ms Leeds told the court that she didn’t tell “anybody” about what happened on the plane.

She said it didn’t “occur” to her that it was an option to share what took place.

When the plane landed, she waited for everyone to leave before she got off and drove home, she told the court, according to Law & Crime.

“In that time and place ... men could basically get away with a lot,” she said.

In her previous deposition, she alleged that she subsequently ran into Mr Trump and his then-wife Ivana Trump, who was pregnant at the time, at a fundraising gala for the Humane Society of New York at Saks Fifth Avenue and that he said to her: “I remember you. You’re that c*** from the airplane.”

Ms Leeds has said she tried to move on and forget the incident over the decades as she pursued a career as a stockbroker.

However, she became incensed when she watched the second televised presidential debate between Mr Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016 during which the Republican candidate matter-of-factly denied ever kissing or groping women without their consent when asked about it point-blank by moderator Anderson Cooper, whose question arose from the remarks Mr Trump had just been seen to make in the notorious Access Hollywood tape, then newly-resurfaced.

Angered by his answer, Ms Leeds came forward with her accusation to The New York Times, which published her account alongside that of another accuser, Rachel Crooks, on 13 October 2016, a little more than three weeks before America went to the polls.

Jessica Leeds speaks to Anderson Cooper on CNN in 2017

“He was like an octopus. His hands were everywhere,” she told the newspaper of the alleged incident. “It was an assault.”

Mr Trump denied her allegations in a statement to the paper, categorically insisting: “None of this ever took place."

He also addressed them at a campaign rally in North Carolina, ridiculing Ms Leeds and telling an appreciative MAGA audience: “Believe me – she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you. You don’t know. That would not be my first choice.”

Undeterred, she gave an interview to Mr Cooper on CNN in which she recounted the story and her reasons for coming forward, saying Mr Trump had acted out of “boredom”, and appeared at a press conference in December 2017 alongside Ms Crooks and another accuser, Samantha Holvey, to repeat the accusations about the man then occupying the Oval Office of the White House.

She was also interviewed at length by Ms Carroll herself for The Atlantic in September 2020 and again relived the alleged assault in detail, even recalling the brown tweed suit and silver satin blouse she had worn that day.

“All I remember is all of a sudden, he is on me,” she said.

“It’s like he’s got four extra hands. He’s grabbing my breasts. He’s trying to kiss me. I’m trying to get his hands off me.

“And this struggle – it’s when he starts putting his hand up my skirt that I get a jolt of strength and manage to wiggle out of the seat. I grab my purse and storm to the back of the plane.”

She also addressed Mr Trump’s dismissal of her claims, saying: “I know that if the story gets any attention, the first thing Trump will say is that I’m not pretty enough. I know instinctively that’s what he’s going to say.”

On 2 May, the jury in Ms Carroll’s civil rape trial was shown a video of Mr Trump responding to the Access Hollywood tape during the 2016 debate with Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump described his comments about grabbing women “by the p****” as “locker room talk” and not based in reality.

Ms Leeds told the court she was “furious” because Mr Trump was “lying”.

She said she knew he was lying because of “the experience I had with him”.

Gustaf Kilander contributed to this report

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