The first former White House official told me that “nobody is talking” about Carroll’s claim, beyond a few Trump allies who may have vented to inquiring reporters. “My reaction was like, it’s no different than any of the other stories,” this person said. “It’s a little bad to say, but when you deal with that stuff regularly—in the White House, I dealt with a lot of the personal-slash-accuser stories—you get a little used to it and numb to it.”
It was a curious theme in many of my interviews: people evincing a slight sadness about this static routine of indifference, despite it being a routine they themselves have helped perpetuate. “Morality doesn’t matter,” a senior campaign official lamented to me. “We excuse moral misbehavior from politicians because they’re on our team, and we judge others for being on the wrong team. The really scary part to me is: Does society just not care?”
I was confused: “So you’re saying you believe Carroll?” I asked. “No,” this person said. Their “worry,” they clarified, is that “when an allegation is truthful, are people just not going to care?” I asked what made them so sure Carroll’s wasn’t truthful. “The timing was weird,” was all they said, before telling me they hadn’t read her essay.
It’s impossible to meaningfully judge the credibility of an allegation without having read the allegation itself. But if all but one source I spoke to had skipped the fine print, all but one were fully up to speed on Carroll’s recent television appearances in which she’s talked about her account (a dynamic that one Robert Mueller might recognize). One of those interviews took place last Friday with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell. In the first of a series of strange remarks, she told O’Donnell she “wished” that when Trump had asked her how old she was that day in Bergdorf’s, she had responded, “I’ll tell you my age if you show me your tax returns.” When O’Donnell asked her whether she would consider filing charges against Trump, as there is no statute of limitations for rape cases in New York, she replied: “No … I would find it disrespectful to the women who are down on the border, who are being raped around the clock down there.”
Another puzzling moment came on Monday night, when CNN’s Anderson Cooper uncomfortably cut to a commercial after Carroll said she thought “most people think of rape as being sexy—[they] think of the fantasies.” In her interview with The New York Times, Carroll explained why she doesn’t use rape to describe what happened to her: “Every woman gets to choose her word … My word is fight. My word is not the ‘victim word.’ I have not been raped. Something has not been done to me. I fought.”
When I spoke with the officials, it was as though her comments had given them a sense of cover to not engage with her underlying claim, nor with the fact that two of her friends corroborated that she had shared her allegations with them contemporaneously. (Given Trump allies’ track record on misconduct accusations against the president, officials would likely have dismissed her claims even if she hadn’t gone on TV.) The first former White House official said “if anyone” in Trump’s orbit has been talking about Carroll, “it’s been about those segments.” “You know, I don’t know one way or the other whether he did it, but I think she set back her story a lot those nights,” this person said.