February 25, 2019 / 8:10 PM / 2 months ago

Lawsuit accuses Trump of kissing campaign worker without her consent

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - A woman who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign sued the president on Monday, accusing him of kissing her without consent before a 2016 rally in Tampa, Florida.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Alva Johnson said in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Florida’s Middle District, that the alleged incident was “part of a pattern of predatory and harassing behavior towards women” by Trump.

“This accusation is absurd on its face,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts.”

Trump has denied charges by a number of women who said he groped and kissed them over a period of years without permission.

The lawsuit alleges the encounter occurred inside a campaign RV before a rally on Aug. 24, 2016. While leaving a meeting in the vehicle, Trump gripped Johnson by the hand and leaned in so close that she felt his breath, the lawsuit says.

Johnson turned her head, trying to avoid a kiss, but Trump still managed to kiss the corner of her mouth, the lawsuit says. Johnson claims Trump had to move deliberately because her face was framed by a baseball cap.

“She felt confused and humiliated,” the lawsuit said.

High-profile Trump supporters including then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Trump’s Florida campaign director Karen Giorno were in the RV at the time, the lawsuit said. Both told the Washington Post, which first reported the lawsuit, that they saw nothing inappropriate.

Johnson is seeking financial damages and a court order to prohibit Trump “from grabbing, kissing or otherwise assaulting or harassing women without prior express consent.”

According to the lawsuit, Johnson called her partner and her parents in tears the day of the encounter with Trump and described what had happened. She said fellow campaign workers subsequently joked about the kiss after Giorno shared details.

In a phone interview on Monday, Johnson’s lawyer, Hassan Zavareei, rejected the White House denial and said the witness accounts were not credible.

He said Johnson, 43, a mother of four living in Alabama, was not available for an interview and worries about her family’s safety as a result of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said Johnson also experienced discrimination as one of the campaign’s few female and African-American staff members. She earned less than her colleagues and experienced “a larger culture of racist and sexist behavior,” the lawsuit said.

Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Howard Goller

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