LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush apologized through a spokesman on Wednesday for what an actress described as a sexual assault but which Bush said was intended as a friendly pat and a joke to put her at ease during a picture-taking session.
Heather Lind, who starred in the AMC cable television network’s historical drama “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” accused Bush of groping her as they posed for photos together with his wife and others during a promotional event for the show in 2014.
The allegation surfaced in an Instagram post from Lind featuring a photograph of Bush, 93, shaking hands with former President Barack Obama during an appearance of all five living former presidents at Saturday’s hurricane fund-raising benefit.
In the post, Lind, 34, said that seeing that photo reminded her of her own meeting with the 41st president three years earlier, when, according to her, “he sexually assaulted me while I was posing for a similar photo.”
“He didn’t shake my hand. He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side,” Lind wrote. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”
Lind said the former first lady “rolled her eyes as if to say, ‘not again.’”
The Instagram post, since deleted, carried the “MeToo” social media hashtag spawned by the recent outpouring of sexual assault and sexual harassment accusations leveled against former Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has denied engaging in non-consensual sex with anyone.
Bush’s spokesman Jim McGrath, issued a statement in response to Lind’s post that sought to explain the former president’s behavior as an attempt to make light of social awkwardness posed by his own physical disability during photo sessions.
Confined to a wheelchair, as Bush has been for about the past five years, “his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he take pictures,” McGrath said.
“To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke - and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate,” McGrath wrote. “To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”
Representatives for the actress were not immediately available for comment on the president’s response to her allegations, and it was not clear what prompted her to take down the Instagram post in question.
Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry