Lawyers for President Donald Trump say video of his interactions with campaign staffer Alva Johnson outside a Tampa rally in 2016 contradicts her claims he subjected her to an unwanted, forcible kiss.
Trump’s attorneys posted the 15-second video online Wednesday and cited it in pleadings filed with a federal judge handling a lawsuit Johnson filed in February claiming trauma from the interaction with Trump and sex and racial discrimination had an impact on her pay while working as an outreach staffer for the campaign.
Story Continued Below
Trump lawyer Charles Harder said the recording shows Johnson’s suit is “unmeritorious and frivolous.”
“The Video shows that Plaintiff’s allegations in the Complaint that Mr. Trump ‘forcibly’ kissed her, and kissed her ‘on the mouth,’ are entirely false,” Harder wrote in a court filing. “In watching the Video, the only conclusion a reasonable person could reach is that the exchange was an innocent moment between a dedicated campaign staffer and the candidate for whom she was working.”
Trump’s attorneys also point out that just before the disputed embrace amid a gathering of other supporters in a recreational vehicle near the August 2016 rally, Johnson told Trump she’d been away from her family for eight months working for him.
After the kiss cited in the lawsuit, Johnson can be heard saying: “We’re going to get you in the White House; I’ll see you in February.”
Brian Hayes, a campaign volunteer, said in a legal declaration that he was in the RV at the time of the encounter and recorded the video on his mobile phone.
While Trump’s legal team cast the video as devastating for Johnson’s suit, her attorneys say the recording is a boon to her case because it confirms that she and Trump did interact in the RV on the date Johnson claimed.
“We are gratified and pleased that we finally have proof what Ms. Johnson has been alleging in this lawsuit,” said Hassan Zavareei, an attorney for Johnson. “It is basically exactly what Ms. Johnson has been saying.”
Zavareei said there are only minor differences from Johnson’s longstanding account. “She said Trump was holding her by the hands. In fact, he grabbed her by the shoulders. … Other than that, it’s basically identical to what she alleged,” her attorney said.
Asked if the interaction is notably different from those frequently seen on rope lines at campaign events, Zavareei said: “I don’t regard it as innocuous. … Does it look dramatic? No. That does not mean it wasn’t a serious battery. It’s a battery because she didn’t want it to happen. It’s not an appropriate thing to do to another person.”
Johnson’s lawyer said her comments on the video were not surprising given that she has always said she didn’t fully appreciate the gravity of what Trump did until the so-called “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in October 2016, containing comments in which Trump boasted of using his fame to “grab” women by their genitals.
Zavareei also claimed the video contradicted public comments by Trump aides, advisers and spokespeople denying Johnson’s account. Most of those
statements appear to be broad denials of Johnson’s claims, although Trump Florida campaign chief Karen Giorno told the New Yorker: “I don’t even recall Alva being on the R.V.” Giorno can be seen in the brief video clip of Johnson just released by the Trump camp.
Trump’s lawyers submitted a brief, personal declaration from him saying he had no recall of the encounter.
“I do not know plaintiff Alva Johnson or recall having any interactions with her,” he said. In the declaration signed by him in Washington on Wednesday, he also denied any involvement in “setting the specific salaries” of Trump campaign staffers.
Court papers show Johnson was questioned about the video during a deposition in Washington on Monday. She confirmed it depicted the episode she cited in her suit.
“That was the day, yes. … That is what happened,” she said. The full context of her remarks was not included in public court filings Wednesday, but Judge William Jung ordered Trump’s attorneys to submit the complete deposition transcript to him.
In June, Jung — who is a Trump appointee but also had an unsuccessful nomination from President Barack Obama — dismissed the suit against Trump and his campaign.
“As currently stated, the Complaint presents a political lawsuit, not a tort and wages lawsuit,” Jung wrote then. “If Plaintiff wishes to make a political statement or bring a claim for political purposes, this is not the forum.”
However, Jung said he’d allow Johnson’s lawyers to redraft their case. He also allowed discovery in the case to continue, although Trump’s attorneys are using the new video as part of an effort to halt or curtail further document demands or depositions related to the suit.