A staffer on Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has filed a lawsuit against him, alleging the president kissed her in a non-consenual manner before a Florida rally in August 2016.
Alva Johnson, a 43-year-old mother of four, is seeking damages for emotional pain and suffering caused by the unwanted sexual contact. The federal lawsuit, filed today in Florida, also claims that as a black woman, Johnson faced racial discrimination during the campaign, receiving less pay than her white male coworkers. A campaign spokeswoman, Kayleigh McEnany, told The Washington Post that those allegations were “off-base and unfounded.”
Johnson, a two-time Obama voter, became interested in political work after her Republican stepfather sold her on Trump’s potential to help struggling black communities. She first met Trump at an Alabama rally in late 2015, where—according to the lawsuit—she states that Trump looked her up and down, saying “oh, beautiful, beautiful, fantastic.” Johnson overlooked the demeaning comments and later decided to take a job as the campaign’s director of outreach and coalitions in Alabama.
In the lead-up to the election, Johnson was assigned to manage a fleet of RVs designed to act as mobile campaign offices in Florida. During a visit to Tampa for a rally, Trump came to inspect the RVs while Johnson recorded video, saying, “good job, boss,” from behind the camera. As he went to leave the RV, Johnson says Trump passed her and she spoke to him. “I’ve been on the road for you since March, away from my family,” she told him, according to the lawsuit. “You’re doing an awesome job. Go in there and kick ass.” Trump took her hand and thanked her. Then, he leaned in for a kiss.
“He’s coming straight for my lips,” she remembered thinking, as she walked The Post through the incident. “So I turn my head, and he kisses me right on corner of my mouth, still holding my hand the entire time. Then he walks on out.” Johnson said that after the kiss, she called her boyfriend, mother, and step-father, who all had similar baffled and furious reactions. Although emotionally conflicted, Johnson continued to work for Trump even after the event.
Then, several weeks after her disheartening run-in with the Republican candidate, Johnson saw that The Washington Post had published video of Trump bragging about his sexual aggression to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump was recorded saying in 2005. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Johnson was stunned. “I felt sick to my stomach,” she told Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites of The Post. “That was what he did to me.” As the #MeToo movement gained traction, Johnson began to reconsider her silence on the incident, and eventually decided to retain lawyer Hassan Zavareei to file suit.
In response to the legal action, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee 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—including former attorney general of Florida Pam Bondi—denied seeing the alleged kiss. Trump has repeatedly denied all allegations against him, and has labeled his accusers “liars” and speculated that they have been paid to do so.
While many women have publicly accused Trump of inappropriate sexual contact, Johnson is the first to come forward with an accusation since he took office, and the only one to allege sexual misconduct during his campaign. This is, however, the second lawsuit over non-consensual kissing that Trump currently faces: former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos brought a defamation suit against Trump in New York after he publicly called her a liar over her claims of a 2007 assault.