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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 9, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Former staffer sues Trump for alleged assault

A former staffer of President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit Feb. 25 alleging that Trump tried to forcibly kiss her during a campaign event in 2016. In addition to the forced kiss, the staffer is also suing for not being paid fairly for her work due to her race and gender.

Alva Johnson, former Trump campaign staffer, alleges in the lawsuit that Trump grabbed her hand and forcibly kissed her without her consent inside an RV in Florida in August 2016. This took place while Trump was departing from a rally and Johnson was encouraging him. Trump then grabbed her hand, expressed his gratitude for her work and told her he would “take care of her.” As he spoke, the suit alleges, he gripped her hand tighter and began to lean in toward her. When she realized Trump was attempting to kiss her, Johnson turned her head and the kiss landed on the corner of her mouth.

The lawsuit claims that the unwanted kiss is just one of many incidents during Trump’s decades-long run as a sexual predator. Johnson is one of 21 women who has come forward about Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct since the 1980s.  

“Defendant Trump’s battery of Ms. Johnson is part of a pattern of predatory and harassing behavior toward women,” the suit said. “He continues to repeatedly and unashamedly grope women, kiss them without their consent, and force them to endure unwanted touching. As demonstrated by his long history of similar behavior, he does so intentionally, maliciously, and with the knowledge that it will cause damage and injury.”

The lawsuit also alleges that there were several witnesses to the incident, all of whom were complicit or even encouraging. The alleged witnesses include then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, then-State Director Karen Giorno and Regional Directors Earl Ledbetter, Mitch Tyner and Nick Corvino. The lawsuit alleges specifically that Bondi smiled at Johnson during the incident, Giorno approvingly tugged Johnson’s elbow and Giorno alerted other staff members of the incident without Johnson’s knowledge.

Bondi denied Johnson’s allegations in a statement made to CNN.

“As a career prosecutor and Attorney General, had I seen anything improper I would have taken action,” Bondi said. “I was with the president in the RV and these allegations are false.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, dismissed the lawsuit and said Johnson’s story is a fabrication.

“This accusation is absurd on its face,” Sanders said. “This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Johnson was vastly underpaid compared to her white counterparts despite her meaningful contributions to the campaign. Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the Trump campaign, denied any sort of bias in paying employees.

“The Trump campaign has never discriminated based on race, ethnicity, gender or any other basis,” McEnany said. “Any allegation suggesting otherwise is off base and unfounded.”

Hassan Zavareei, Johnson’s attorney, said Johnson is filing the lawsuit because she cannot be silent about Trump’s abuses any longer. He also said Johnson felt guilt and responsibility for her role in Trump winning the election in 2016, following his problematic policies like the separation of migrant families.

Zavareei also said the lawsuit is part of an attempt to make Trump take responsibility for his actions against multiple women.

“Unlike so many of the other victims, [Johnson]’s the only one with the ability to sue him directly for his sexual misconduct,” Zavareei said. “The other lawsuits have been for defamation or some of the victims haven’t been able to bring any lawsuits at all because they’ve been barred by statute of limitations. For that reason, I think she’s uniquely situated to hold him accountable for an actual act of sexual assault.”

Meredith Burke can be reached at mburke@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @meredithsburke