A former Trump campaign staffer is accusing President Trump of forcibly kissing her during a campaign event in 2016, a claim the White House and individuals who were said to be present strongly deny. In addition to the unwelcome kiss, Alva Johnson contends she experienced race and sex discrimination as an African-American woman on the campaign — she says she was paid less than white men doing similar work.
“Defendant Trump violated norms of decency and privacy by kissing Ms. Johnson on the lips without her consent in the middle of a Florida work event and in front of numerous other Campaign officials,” her complaint reads. It was filed in a Florida federal court Monday.
Johnson managed the campaign RVs traveling across Florida for the Trump campaign. They were used as mobile campaign offices for voter registration and engagement. The complaint alleges that in August 2016 Johnson, who was in Tampa to help organize a rally, met with Mr. Trump along with other staff and volunteers in one of the RVs. When he arrived, the complaint says, it was raining and Mr. Trump was taken into an RV to shelter him from the weather.
Campaign staff brought in other staff and supporters to talk with Mr. Trump and he shook hands, signed autographs and posed for pictures. Johnson was among the staff in the RV. She said that as he was departing for the rally, he passed by her. She told him she had been “on the road since March, away from her family,” the complaint says. And then she “urged him to go [to the rally] and ‘kick ass.”‘
Mr. Trump, she alleges, “grasped her hand and did not let go. He told her he knew she had been on the road for a long time and that she had been doing a great job. He also told Ms. Johnson that he would not forget about her, and that he was going to take care of her. As Defendant Trump spoke, he tightened his grip on Ms. Johnson’s hand and leaned towards her. He moved close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin. Ms. Johnson suddenly realized that Defendant Trump was trying to kiss her on the mouth, and attempted to avoid this by turning her head to the right. Defendant Trump kissed her anyway, and the kiss landed on the corner of her mouth.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was identified by the accuser as having been present in the RV, called the allegations “false.”
“As a career prosecutor and Attorney General, had I seen anything improper I would have taken action. I was with the president in the RV and these allegations are false,” Bondi said in a statement.
Similarly, Stephanie Grisham, now the first lady’s deputy chief of staff, told CBS News, “I was in the trailer and didn’t see anything like that.”
A Trump campaign staffer who was in the trailer told CBS News, “Aside from a million other things, this is crazy to me. There were at least 5, 6, 7 people in that trailer, if not more. It was a tiny trailer, so it’s hard to remember — but I just can’t imagine that [Donald Trump] did something like that and none of us saw it.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the accusation “absurd on its face.”
“This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts,” Sanders said in a statement.
Johnson’s claim about the use of the RVs in the campaign is not contested. CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe, formerly of The Washington Post, saw the RV that day and noted that it was “small.” O’Keefe also recalled that it was, as Johnson said, rainy that day at the fairgrounds where the Trump rally was held.
Johnson also alleges some staffers noticed she had received “a kiss from the boss” and laughed about it, a reaction she said made her uncomfortable, as though she should just “play it off.”
The campaign staff source who was in the trailer, asked about that by CBS News responded, “I never heard one thing.”
Sara Cook, Ed O’Keefe, Fin Gomez, Kathryn Watson, Catherine Cannon and Becky Van Dercook contributed to this report
contributed to this report