One chilly afternoon in November 2019, a process server stepped through the gold-rimmed doors of Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue to deliver a copy of an explosive lawsuit and a court summons to President Donald Trump.
In those papers, E. Jean Carroll declared that Trump had raped her in a department store dressing room in late 1995 or early 1996. Carroll, a veteran advice columnist at Elle magazine and one of at least 26 women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct since the 1970s, claimed that Trump had subsequently smeared her when he denied he knew her, accused her of fabricating her story to sell books, and insulted her appearance in statements to reporters. She was now suing him for defamation, demanding a retraction and damages. “Nobody in this nation is above the law,” her complaint began. “Nobody is entitled to conceal acts of sexual assault behind a wall of defamatory falsehoods and deflections.”
But before her claims could be heard in a New York state court, Trump needed to be served. First, the process server made his way through a Secret Service checkpoint. Then he spoke to the concierge, who called upstairs to a legal office before refusing to accept the documents. The server tried to leave the sheaf of papers and head back toward the lobby’s golden doors, but Secret Service officers stopped him, ordered him to take the papers, and kicked him out. One officer said they had instructions to keep process servers from leaving documents with the concierge, according to an affidavit. Three subsequent attempts to serve papers at Trump Tower and one at the White House ended similarly.
For nearly four years, Trump has wielded the office of the presidency as a shield against lawsuits from women who have accused him of sexually assaulting them before his election. “It started the moment the lawsuit was filed,” Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, says in an email. Trump claimed presidential immunity in state court, argued that he couldn’t be sued in New York because of his temporary residence in the White House, and had the Department of Justice intervene on his behalf.
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