A woman has testified that former US President Donald Trump assaulted her on an airline flight in the late 1970s with what appeared to be “40 trillion hands,” years before writer E Jean Carroll said he sexually assaulted her in a department store in Manhattan.
Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyer said the former president has decided not to testify, answering the biggest open question about the closely watched civil suit brought by Carroll alleging rape and defamation.
Trump has taken an affidavit and excerpts can be played in front of the jury.
Jessica Leeds, 81, of Asheville, North Carolina, told jurors at a civil trial stemming from Carroll’s lawsuit that Trump grabbed her breast and ran his hand up her skirt as they sat next to each other in first class on a jet to New York City.
After a few seconds, Leeds said, she wrenched herself away from Trump, told him “I don’t need this,” and stormed to the back of the plane.
“There was no conversation. It came out of the blue. It was like a struggle,” Leeds testified. “He tried to kiss me, tried to pull me in. He grabbed my breasts. hands. It was like a struggle between the two of us.”
Carroll’s lawyers called Leeds to the witness stand in an attempt to demonstrate that Trump has a history of assaulting women and that Carroll’s claims were part of a pattern and not a one-off incident. Another woman is expected to testify at trial that she, too, was a victim of Trump.
Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly denied the women’s claims. He claims the charges are politically motivated attempts to tarnish his reputation and deny him the White House. He has said that Carroll lied to sell books and that she is not his “type”.
Trump used similar language in denying Leeds’ allegations, telling supporters at a rally in 2016, “Believe me, she wouldn’t be my first choice.”
Leeds first went public with her account of the alleged plane strike in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 campaign, telling jurors she decided to do so because she was “furious” at his claim during a debate that he never touched women against their will. .
Carroll, a former magazine advice columnist, made her accusations against Trump public in 2019 when she published a memoir. She testified for three days, ending Monday, that Trump raped her in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman, a luxury department store.
Lisa Birnbach, an old friend of Carroll’s, testified that an emotional and hyperventilating Carroll called her minutes after her meeting with Trump to share what had happened. She told Carroll that what she had experienced was rape and urged her to go to the police, but Carroll refused, causing them to argue. Birnbach eventually agreed never to talk about it again.
Leeds said she was in her late 30s and working in sales when she boarded a Braniff Airways flight from Dallas or Atlanta to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, probably in 1979. A flight attendant invited her from the bus to the only empty aisle seat. the first-class cabin, next to Trump.
He introduced himself, Leeds said, but she didn’t know who he was at the time. Trump was working as a real estate developer at the time and had not yet reached the heights of his fame and it would be a few more years before Trump Tower would open in Manhattan.
Leeds said she sat with Trump for a few hours and ate a nice, first-class meal, but otherwise their conversation was unforgettable. Then she said: “Suddenly Trump decided to kiss and grope me”.
Leeds said she fought back when Trump appeared to be getting more aggressive, putting his weight on her, crowding her chair and pushing her into it. No passengers intervened and no employees of the now-defunct airline came to her aid, she said.
“When he started to put his hand under my skirt, I got strength. I managed to wriggle out of my seat and storm back to my seat on the bus. I don’t think a word or a sound was made by any of us,” Leeds recalled. She said the meeting “seemed like an eternity, but it probably only lasted a few seconds.”
After landing in New York, Leeds said she stayed on the plane until everyone else had left to avoid running into Trump again. She said she kept the incident to herself and considered it one of the “hardships of travel”.
She didn’t report it to the airline, the police, or her boss because it was a time when “women don’t complain about things in the workplace,” she explains.
A few years later, Leeds said she saw Trump at a gala in Manhattan with his first wife, Ivana, who was pregnant. But Leeds said nothing. Instead, she told the jurors that it was Trump who struck out.
She recalled that he used a rude word to recognize her as the woman “from the plane”.