Donald Trump introduced his presidential campaign to the world with a slur against Mexican immigrants, accusing them of being “rapists” and bringing crime into the country.
“I mean somebody’s doing it!… Who’s doing the raping?” Donald Trump said, when asked to defend his characterization.
It was an unfortunate turn of phrase for Trump—in more ways than one. Not only does the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination have a history of controversial remarks about sexual assault, but as it turns out, his ex-wife Ivana Trump once used “rape” to describe an incident between them in 1989. She later said she felt “violated” by the experience.
Michael Cohen, special counsel at The Trump Organization, defended his boss, saying, “You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”
“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”
Ivana Trump’s assertion of “rape” came in a deposition—part of the early ’90s divorce case between the Trumps, and revealed in the 1993 book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump.
The book, by former Texas Monthly and Newsweek reporter Harry Hurt III, described a harrowing scene. After a painful scalp reduction surgery to remove a bald spot, Donald Trump confronted his then-wife, who had previously used the same plastic surgeon.
“Your fucking doctor has ruined me!” Trump cried.
What followed was a “violent assault,” according to Lost Tycoon. Donald held back Ivana’s arms and began to pull out fistfuls of hair from her scalp, as if to mirror the pain he felt from his own operation. He tore off her clothes and unzipped his pants.
“Then he jams his penis inside her for the first time in more than sixteen months. Ivana is terrified… It is a violent assault,” Hurt writes. “According to versions she repeats to some of her closest confidantes, ‘he raped me.’”
Following the incident, Ivana ran upstairs, hid behind a locked door, and remained there “crying for the rest of night.” When she returned to the master bedroom in the morning, he was there.
“As she looks in horror at the ripped-out hair scattered all over the bed, he glares at her and asks with menacing casualness: ‘Does it hurt?’” Hurt writes.
Donald Trump has previously denied the allegation. In the book, he denies having had the scalp reduction surgery.
“It’s obviously false,” Donald Trump said of the accusation in 1993, according to Newsday. “It’s incorrect and done by a guy without much talent… He is a guy that is an unattractive guy who is a vindictive and jealous person.”
Cohen acknowledged Monday that he has not read the entire deposition but said he had read the two relevant pages of it, including the rape accusation.
“It’s not the word that you’re trying to make it into,” Cohen told The Daily Beast, saying Ivana Trump was talking about how “she felt raped emotionally… She was not referring to it [as] a criminal matter, and not in its literal sense, though there’s many literal senses to the word.”
Cohen added that there is no such thing, legally, as a man raping his wife. “You cannot rape your spouse,” he said. “There’s very clear case law.”
That is not true. In New York, there used to be a so-called marital rape exemption to the law. It was struck down in 1984.
Trump’s lawyer then changed tactics, lobbing insults and threatening a lawsuit if a story was published.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up… for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet… you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.
When Lost Tycoon was about to be printed, Donald Trump and his lawyers provided a statement from Ivana, which was posted on the first page of the book. In it, Ivana confirms that she had “felt violated” and that she had stated that her husband had raped her during a divorce deposition. But Ivana sought to soften her earlier statement.
“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me,” the Ivana Trump statement said. “[O]n one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
The statement, according to a “Notice to the Reader” in the book, “does not contradict or invalidate any information contained in this book.”
Nevertheless, Cohen, Trump’s attorney, said that “there is nothing reasonable about you wanting to write a story about somebody’s usage of the word ‘rape,’ when she’s talking [about how] she didn’t feel emotionally satisfied.”
“Though there’s many literal senses to the word, if you distort it, and you put Mr. Trump’s name there onto it, rest assured, you will suffer the consequences. So you do whatever you want. You want to ruin your life at the age of 20? You do that, and I’ll be happy to serve it right up to you,” he added.
“I think you should go ahead and you should write the story that you plan on writing. I think you should do it. Because I think you’re an idiot. And I think your paper’s a joke, and it’s going to be my absolute pleasure to serve you with a $500 million lawsuit, like I told [you] I did it to Univision,” Cohen continued.
The 1990 divorce case between the two Trumps was granted on the grounds of Donald’s “cruel and inhuman treatment” of Ivana. The settlement, under which the Trumps agreed on the division of assets, was finalized in 1991. Her divorce involved a gag order that keeps her from talking about her marriage to Donald Trump without his permission.
Divorce records in New York state are not open to public inspection. But some of the legal documents surrounding the contract dispute over the Trumps’ prenuptial agreement are still available and were reviewed by The Daily Beast.
In one such document, Ivana Trump’s lawyers claim that in the three years preceding their divorce Donald Trump, “has increasingly verbally abused and demeaned [her] so as to obtain her submission to his wishes and desires” as well as “humiliated and verbally assaulted” her. The New York County Clerk’s records office couldn’t locate at least one box of documents relating to the contract dispute. (It’s not uncommon for court files to go missing.)
Ivana Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Donald Trump has a history of grandstanding on rape. His controversial campaign-trail comments this year about Mexicans were hardly the first time he has waded into the hot-button issue of sexual assault.
Two years ago, Trump weighed in on the alarming rate of sexual assault and rape in the military—and in doing so, pinned the blame on the presence of women.
“26,000 unreported sexual [assaults] in the military—only 238 convictions. What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?” he tweeted in 2013. “The Generals and top military brass never wanted a mixer but were forced to do it by very dumb politicians who wanted to be politically [correct]!” he continued.
In 1989, the real estate mogul placed a full-page ad in four New York City newspapers calling for the execution of the five alleged rapists of Trisha Meili, the Central Park jogger who was put in a coma by her assailants. The defendants received different sentences and served between six and 13 years behind bars before new evidence of coerced confessions emerged that led to their convictions being vacated in 2002.
“Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!” Trump’s 1989 ad blared. “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”
Trump’s other public statements on rape cases range from tone-deaf to offensive. In 1992, he floated the idea that convicted rapist and boxer Mike Tyson should be allowed to pay “millions and millions” of dollars to rape victims instead of serving jail time. Trump’s modest proposal did not go over well.
“How offensive,” shot back Dollyne Pettingill, spokeswoman for the mayor of Indianapolis, where Tyson committed the assault. “We have a judicial process for these matters and it’s not for sale.”
Whether Trump’s comments about rape—or the accusation of assault from his ex-wife—will hurt his burgeoning political career is an open question. So far, Trump has been able to shake off the sorts of scandals that would destroy any other campaign for president. Dissing Mexican immigrants and prisoners of war has not cost him his campaign, nor has his history of giving to Democratic campaigns. In the latest CNN poll, Trump leads all other candidates in the Republican presidential field, with 18 percent support.
—with additional reporting by Nina Strochlic and Asawin Suebsaeng
Update 7/28/15 9:50 AM: Ivana Trump released a statement Tuesday morning to CNN.
“I have recently read some comments attributed to me from nearly 30 years ago at a time of very high tension during my divorce from Donald. The story is totally without merit. Donald and I are the best of friends and together have raised three children that we love and are very proud of. I have nothing but fondness for Donald and wish him the best of luck on his campaign. Incidentally, I think he would make an incredible president.”
Ironically, Ivana says a story based on her own words in a divorce deposition are “totally without merit.”
In further irony, Trump is distancing himself from his lawyer.
“Mr. Trump speaks for Mr. Trump and nobody but Mr. Trump speaks for him,” a campaign source told CNN.