President Donald Trump’s latest sexual-misconduct accuser feels personally responsible for helping put him in the White House. And now she’s trying to make it right.
Alva Johnson, a staffer on Trump’s presidential campaign, came forward Monday with new allegations that the president forcibly kissed her ahead of an August 2016 rally in Florida.
“She feels partly responsible for helping put a sexual predator into the White House, and she believes she has an obligation to tell her story and to hold him accountable for what he’s done to her but to so many other women,” Johnson’s attorney, Hassan Zavareei, told The Daily Beast on Monday.
According to Johnson’s federal lawsuit, Trump grabbed her hand and leaned in to kiss her on the lips, but the now-43-year-old claims she turned her head to avoid the “super-creepy and inappropriate” kiss.
The future president’s lips ended up on the side of her mouth, Johnson recalled.
“I immediately felt violated because I wasn’t expecting it or wanting it,” she told The Washington Post, who first reported the allegations. “I can still see his lips coming straight for my face.”
Trump’s campaign came perilously close to failing on Oct. 7, 2016, when now-infamous, outtakes of an Access Hollywood appearance in 2005 leaked to the press. He was heard saying, “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Zavareei told The Daily Beast that Johnson never returned to the office after the Access Hollywood story broke.
“It was the first time she was able to contextualize what happened to her,” said Zavareei. “When he told her—and the rest of the country—his modus operandi for how he sexually attacks women.”
Two months later, Zavareei said, Johnson sought out and met with a lawyer, who began to prepare a lawsuit. Ultimately, that lawyer, who Zavareei did not name, declined the case for “business reasons,” even though he allegedly believed Johnson had a meritorious case.
That same attorney provided The Post with text messages showing that he believed her story was “credible.”
Then, when it looked like Trump had recovered from the Access Hollywood scandal, Johnson “got very scared and very frightened and decided to sort of ‘get in line,’ and that’s how she continued to function after he was elected president.”
All that changed in August 2017 after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Zavareei said, when Trump called white-supremacist protesters “very fine people.” Zavareei said that Johnson watched—and suffered—with each national controversy, including when Trump enacted a policy of separating migrant children from their parents coming into the United States without documentation.
“It made her feel like she had some responsibility, having worked on his campaign,” said Zavareei. Johnson, like all ex-Trump staffers, was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement at the end of her tenure. “She hired us in the summer, and we’ve been working on this and investigating since. It takes a while.”
Johnson is seeking unspecified damages for emotional pain and suffering, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the allegation “absurd on its face” and said, “This never happened and is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eyewitness accounts.”
Despite the fact that Johnson’s team named Pam Bondi, then Florida’s attorney general, and Karen Giorno, then-director of the Florida campaign, as witnesses of the alleged kiss, both women publicly denied having seen anything.
“Both of the so-called witnesses are lying,” Zavareei told The Daily Beast on Monday, noting that a PAC supporting Bondi accepted a potentially illegal $25,000 donation from Trump in 2013, and then she decided not to prosecute a case against the Trump Foundation. “[Bondi] has suspect credibility... She’s just not to be believed.”
When asked if Johnson would be willing to testify before Congress about the alleged kiss, Zavareei said, “She’s obviously going to testify in court in this case. Whether she testifies in Congress, I don’t know. If they made the request, we would certainly give it fair consideration.”
At least a dozen other allegations of misconduct have been lodged against President Trump, stretching from as early as the '80s. They include alleged groping, forcible kisses, and a makeup artist’s claim of attempted rape.
Johnson’s case is different than the other women who have accused Trump in that her statute of limitations has not yet lapsed, Zavareei told The Daily Beast. Though she considered coming forward earlier, Johnson was scared and unsure of what to do, especially after the other attorney declined to take her case.
It’s worth noting that the age-old question lobbed at women survivors—“Why do women wait so long to report?”—was addressed multiple times just months earlier during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who himself was accused of sexual misconduct.
“Basic prosecutor’s training taught me that victims of sexual assault often do not make reports because they are embarrassed, fear they will not be believed, and do not want to relive their trauma by recounting it to a jury of 12 strangers,” wrote Michael J. Stern in the Chicago Tribune at the time.
The fear and turmoil surrounding coming forward forces many accusers to stay silent, Zavareei acknowledged.
He also noted that Johnson has “not yet” received threats against her life but that “we’re prepared for that and expecting that that is a possibility.”
Christine Blasey Ford, for example, who came forward against Kavanaugh and testified before Congress, received countless threats and was forced to move her family to another home.
“I imagine there are many women who have kept their stories to themselves for fear of being judged and for retribution,” Zavareei said. “Absolutely that was a factor.”
“She’s a strong woman,” he said of Johnson. “I think she feels it as a duty that she can’t remain silent.”