A woman who worked on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign is suing him, claiming he forcibly kissed her at an event in Florida — while other women surrounding Trump are being quick to deny her account.
Alva Johnson, who was a campaign staffer in 2016, told The Washington Post that Trump approached her as he was exiting an RV before a Tampa rally in August of that year. He grabbed her hand and prepared to kiss her; she turned her head, so his lips hit the side of her mouth. It was “super-creepy and inappropriate,” she said.
“I immediately felt violated because I wasn’t expecting it or wanting it,” she said. “I can still see his lips coming straight for my face.”
She filed suit Monday in federal court and Florida, “seeking unspecified damages for emotional pain and suffering,” the Post reports. Johnson, who is black, also contends in the suit that the Trump campaign discriminated against her by paying her less than white men in similar jobs.
She said she came to consider the kiss to be part of a pattern of misconduct on Trump’s part after the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced in October 2016, with Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals without their consent. It took some time for her to decide on a lawyer to handle her case, she told the Post.
She named some eyewitnesses to the kissing incident, but they said they did not see it happen. “Do I recall seeing anything inappropriate? One hundred percent no,” former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican known for her opposition to marriage equality, told the Post. “I’m a prosecutor, and if I saw something inappropriate, I would have said something.”
Karen Giorno, who was Trump’s Florida campaign director, said Johnson’s accusation was “ridiculous” and that the incident “absolutely did not happen.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, gave the Post a written statement saying the allegation was “absurd on its face,” further noting, “This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts.” Stephanie Grisham, who was the campaign’s press director in 2016 and is now press secretary to First Lady Melania Trump, said she was present at the time and did not see the kiss.
Johnson said she tried to get over the incident and even applied for jobs in the Trump administration but was not hired. That had nothing to do with her decision to file the suit, though, she told the Post. A former Democrat, she added that she opposes some of the administration’s policies, such as the separation of immigrant families, and this did influence her. “Babies in cages — I didn’t think it was going to be this bad,” she said. She was also influenced by the #MeToo movement, with survivors of sexual assault and harassment speaking out.
“While more than a dozen other women have publicly accused Trump of touching them in some inappropriate way, Johnson is the only accuser to come forward since he took office and the only one to allege unwanted contact during the campaign,” the Post notes. Summer Zervos, who was a contestant on Trump’s TV show The Apprentice, has sued him for defamation because he said she was lying in accusing him of kissing and groping her without her consent.