A former aide for President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign alleges in a lawsuit Monday that he kissed her without her consent at a rally in August that year.
Alva Johnson, 43, alleges that Trump singled her out prior to the rally in Tampa, Florida, and then forcibly kissed her — which the suit says amounts to common law battery — on a campaign recreational vehicle in the presence of other campaign aides.
She also accuses the Trump campaign of gender and race discrimination, alleging in the lawsuit that she was paid less than her white or male colleagues despite her success organizing volunteers and planning rallies, among other duties.
In a statement Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed Johnson's allegation that Trump kissed her.
"This accusation is absurd on its face," Sanders said. "This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple, highly credible eyewitness accounts.”
In a separate statement, Trump campaign spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany denied any discrimination against Johnson.
“The Trump campaign has never discriminated based on race, ethnicity, gender or any other basis," McEnany said. "Any allegation suggesting otherwise is off-base and unfounded."
Johnson is seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress and loss of income, among other alleged harm.
Johnson alleges that she turned her head to avoid Trump's lips and the kiss landed on the side of her mouth. She said she “felt reduced to just another object” of Trump’s “unwanted sexual attention,” adding that she “was nothing more than a sexual object he felt entitled to dominate and humiliate,” according to the 39-page suit.
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Trump has faced allegations of sexual misconduct from more than a dozen women over the years, which he has repeatedly denied. This is the first time a woman has come forward since he took office.
The Washington Post first reported Johnson's allegations.
Two witnesses to the incident identified by Johnson, then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Florida campaign director Karen Giorno, said the alleged incident did not occur.
“As a career prosecutor and attorney general, had I seen anything improper, I would have taken action," Bondi told NBC News. "I was with the president in the RV, and these allegations are false.”
Giorno told the Post that the allegation is “ridiculous,” saying, “that absolutely did not happen."
Stephanie Grisham, who worked as a Trump campaign aide and is first lady Melania Trump's spokesperson, said she was present as well and did not see any such incident.
“As I’ve said, I was in the trailer and saw nothing of the sort," she told NBC News.
Johnson, an Alabama native, served as the campaign’s director of outreach for that state, as well as on campaign operations in Florida, court documents say.
Her lawsuit says she joined the campaign in January 2016 because she thought Trump’s business acumen would help poor black residents in her home state. She said she was feeling disillusioned by President Barack Obama, for whom she voted in 2008 and 2012.
The lawsuit also says she was not aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct that have been made against Trump over the years.
Johnson's lawsuit says that when the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump bragging about kissing and grabbing women by their genitals without their consent surfaced in October 2016, she realized Trump's behavior toward her “was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of predatory behavior towards women" and she “felt horrified and sick to her stomach."
Johnson left the campaign soon after that, according to the lawsuit. She did not come forward at the time of the alleged incident because, contrary to her expectations, female volunteers expressed support for Trump and skepticism of the authenticity of the "Access Hollywood" tape, causing her “to fear that no one would believe or support her,” the lawsuit says.
Johnson spoke highly of Trump in an interview in May 2017, however, adding that she expected to be given a job as "second-in-command" at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, according to the Post.
“He is more incredible in person than I think you would even think as you see him on TV,” Johnson told an Alabama-based radio program, “Politics and Moore,” the Post reported. “He’s just the nicest guy. ... He treats everyone as if they are a part of his family.”
A lawyer for Johnson, Hassan Zavareei, said his client was bound by a nondisclosure agreement at the time and was “saying what she thought Trump and his supporters wanted,” the newspaper reported.
“She was under an oppressive NDA that prevents her from saying anything negative about the president,” Zavareei said. “She was also trying to move on with her life and had an application for a job with the embassy in Portugal pending.”