Another day, another lawsuit against Donald Trump alleging sexual assault, this time we add former Trump 2016 campaign staffer Alva Johnson to the long, long list of women Trump has been accused of assaulting.
A staffer on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign says he kissed her without her consent at a small gathering of supporters before a Florida rally, an interaction that she alleges in a new lawsuit still causes her anguish.
In interviews with The Washington Post, and in the lawsuit, Alva Johnson said Trump grabbed her hand and leaned in to kiss her on the lips as he exited an RV outside the rally in Tampa on Aug. 24, 2016. Johnson said she turned her head and the unwanted kiss landed on the side of her mouth, which she called “super-creepy and inappropriate.”
“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.”
Johnson said she told her boyfriend, mother and stepfather about the incident later that day, an account all three confirmed to The Post. Two months later, Johnson consulted a Florida attorney about the unwanted kiss; he gave The Post text messages showing that he considered her “credible” but did not take her case for business reasons. The attorney gave Johnson the name of a therapist, whose notes, which The Post reviewed, reference an unspecified event during the campaign that had left her distraught.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed Johnson’s allegation as “absurd on its face.”
“This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts,” she wrote.
Two Trump supporters that Johnson identified as witnesses — a campaign official and Pam Bondi, then the Florida attorney general — denied seeing the alleged kiss in interviews with The Post.
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. Trump faces a defamation lawsuit in New York brought by Summer Zervos, a former “Apprentice” reality TV contestant, who claims he forcibly kissed and groped her in 2007.
The wheels of justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine, as they say. Of course, Trump being in the Oval Office and all, well he can slow those wheels to an imperceptible crawl. Republicans impeached Clinton for less, after all. Meanwhile, New Yorker investigative reporter Ronan Farrow reminds us that the real outcome of Johnson's lawsuit is proving Trump's nondisclosure agreements are unenforceable, and that they are finally being challenged in court.
The most legally significant aspect of Johnson’s suit may ultimately be something the complaint does not explicitly address: the pervasive use of nondisclosure agreements by Trump during his campaign and in his Administration. Johnson’s suit is at least the sixth legal case in which Trump campaign or Administration employees have defied their nondisclosure agreements. Three of those actions, including Johnson’s, were filed this month. Johnson, who was the campaign’s administrative field-operations director in Florida, signed a nondisclosure agreement that bars her from revealing any information “in any way detrimental to the Company, Mr. Trump, any Family Member, any Trump Company or any Family Member company.” Johnson’s attorney, Hassan Zavareei, said, “We expect that Trump will try to use the unconscionable N.D.A. and forced arbitration agreement to silence Ms. Johnson. We will fight this strong-arm tactic.”
The White House referred questions about the nondisclosure agreements to Michael Glassner, the chief operating officer of Trump’s reëlection campaign. He said in a statement, “The campaign takes our NDA agreements very seriously, and will enforce them aggressively if they are breached.” Johnson said that she considers the issues raised by her suit important enough to merit breaching the contract. “I am suing because my work holds the same value as the work of my white male counterparts,” Johnson said, in an interview. “I am suing because this predatory behavior should not be minimized, especially when committed by the most powerful man in the world.”
Nondisclosure agreements are routinely employed in the business world, but experts say that there is little comprehensive data on how they are used by Presidential campaigns. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign reportedly required paid staff to sign such agreements, but Trump’s campaign seemed to use the agreements more widely, and even required unpaid volunteers to sign them. The practice has carried over to the Trump White House. The Washington Post reported last year that dozens of White House aides had signed N.D.A.s, a break in tradition from previous Administrations, which used the contracts more sparingly. White House interns have also reportedly been asked to sign the agreements as part of their mandatory “ethics training.”
We'll see where this goes, but remember that Trump's greatest weakness is the people around him talking, and he knows it.