With the rape trial of former President Donald Trump just days away, his effort to prevent jurors from hearing about another incident—when Trump allegedly forced himself on a different journalist—fell flat Monday.
The federal judge overseeing the case ruled that Trump’s legal team made their appeal too late. And now jurors are poised to hear about a separate incident that could show a pattern of sexual assault from the former president.
It’s the latest sign that the rape case against Trump, years in the making, might not go his way—after he’s faced setback after setback.
Trump will be on trial this week in Manhattan for allegedly raping magazine journalist E. Jean Carroll inside a luxury department store’s changing room in the mid-1990s. Carroll was only able to expand her civil defamation lawsuit—essentially going after Trump because he claimed Carroll was lying—into a more severe battery lawsuit, after New York passed a state law in November 2022 allowing alleged sexual assault victims to file civil suits after the statute of limitations had expired. Carroll filed her expanded lawsuit just hours after the law took effect.
The incident Trump’s lawyers scrambled to suppress in court is a distinctly similar episode; years after the alleged Carroll rape, a People magazine journalist claimed that Trump sexually assaulted her, too.
Trump’s team argued that the incident was different enough that jurors shouldn’t hear about it because Trump allegedly “only touched her shoulders and kissed her, and never touched or attempted to touch her genitals.”
While U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan didn’t rule on the merits of Trump’s lawyers argument, he still ultimately sided with Carroll’s lawyers and will allow the former People magazine correspondent, Natasha Stoynoff, to testify in the case.
In a letter on Saturday, Trump defense lawyer Joe Tacopina asked the federal judge to reconsider his previous decision to allow Stoynoff to testify about her experience with the real estate mogul in 2005—about a decade after the alleged Carroll incident.
That’s when Stoynoff, on assignment for People, traveled to Trump’s South Florida estate of Mar-a-Lago for a celebrity story about Trump’s one-year wedding anniversary with his pregnant wife Melania. As Stoynoff would recall a decade later, Melania excused herself mid-interview to go upstairs and change her outfit for the photoshoot. That’s when Trump decided to show the journalist around the mansion, guiding her to a particular room he wanted her to see—only to shut the door behind them.
‘Within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat,” Stoynoff said in a 2016 People column. Trump was interrupted when his butler “burst into the room a minute later, as I tried to unpin myself.” As they waited for his wife at an outdoor patio, Stoynoff remembered fumbling with her tape recorder when Trump leaned forward and said, “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you?”
Stoynoff also claimed that the next morning, when she showed up late at the Mar-a-Lago spa to enjoy a massage session she had booked, the receptionist told her that “Mr. Trump was here waiting for you” but had left after 15 minutes “for a meeting.” When she returned to New York City, Stoynoff asked her editors to take her off the Trump beat and never interviewed him again.
Trump has called Stoynoff “a liar,” and tweeted in 2017 that it was all “FAKE NEWS.”
Trump also addressed Stoynoff’s allegations at an October 2016 rally, where he famously implored the crowd to “take a look” at Stoynoff. “Look at her, look at her words, you tell me what you think. I don’t think so,” he said to raucous applause.
Despite the attacks, Stoynoff has stood by her story for years.
Last month, Judge Kaplan ruled that Carroll can call Stoynoff as a witness to help bolster her case. Trump’s lawyers tried but failed to keep a mountain of evidence from entering the trial, including video clips that exhibit all the misogynistic things Trump has said over the years. The list ranges from 2016 presidential campaign speeches taking jabs at women who accuse him of sexual misconduct to the leaked Access Hollywood tape where he infamously boasted about grabbing women “by the pussy,” because “when you’re a star they let you do it.”
The Trump legal team’s last-minute effort hints at how damning Stoynoff’s testimony could be at trial, and on Saturday, Tacopina asked that Judge Kaplan take a close look at the details in Stoynoff’s story in the hopes that the judge would see a difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“Your Honor correctly observed that Trump, according to Ms. Stoynoff, did not touch Ms. Stoynoff’s genitals,” Tacopina wrote, continuing that Stoynoff “does not specify what part of her anatomy she claims Mr. Trump groped.”
Tacopina then requested that the judge draw a distinction between forced kissing and sexual groping, because only the more severe accusation would allow Stoynoff to testify. That’s because federal rules of evidence say that a court may admit evidence of a person’s previous sexual assault—but there’s a threshold to meet that definition.
Tacopina wrote that “mere kissing” wouldn’t reach that bar.
Tacopina quotes from Carroll’s own interview of Stoynoff in 2020, when Stoynoff said, “I feel as though, if he had done anything more serious—more sexual, that had to do with sex parts—I would have told my superiors.”
On Sunday, Carroll’s lawyers shot back in a letter of their own dunking on Trump’s team for the last-minute request. Roberta Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, explained how Trump’s lawyers have once again bungled their own legal strategy by waiting until it’s too late to actually analyze the documents they’ve had. She noted that Trump’s lawyers missed the 14-day deadline to appeal the judge’s previous decision and have had Stoynoff’s deposition for seven months.
Kaplan also pointed out that Trump’s alleged behavior at Mar-a-Lago “violated at least two Florida statutes, thus satisfying the crime requirement.”
The federal judge on Monday afternoon decided that Tacopina’s request was “untimely” and any attempt to get him to reconsider “should have been filed well before this request.”
The Trump team’s 11th hour gambit is one of many they’ve tried and failed for a rape case that is nearly four years in the making. The case has been subject to countless delay tactics by the former president.
Just last week, his team raised concerns that the billionaire founder of LinkedIn has been secretly funding Carroll’s lawsuit—something that Carroll’s lawyers also don’t want jurors to hear.