Former Trump campaign staffer Alva Johnson says the president gave her an unwanted kiss in 2016, and she's suing him for battery. Now, a video of that kiss has surfaced, but the two sides can’t agree on what, exactly, that evidence means.
Shot on a campaign volunteer’s cellphone, the video, which was posted online Wednesday, depicts Trump and Johnson on a crowded campaign RV. Trump can be seen grabbing Johnson’s shoulders and leaning in to the side of her face opposite the camera. Before Trump moves on to interact with other people in the RV, Johnson can be heard telling the future president, “We're going to get you in the White House. I'll see you in February.”
Johnson first sued Trump earlier this year, alleging that Trump’s actions traumatized her and that the campaign discriminated against her by paying her less than her white, male colleagues. The video was recovered by Trump’s legal team, through discovery in that lawsuit.
This video was released by Trump's representation, Harder LLP, in a court proceeding.
In a court filing Wednesday, Charles Harder, one of Trump’s attorneys, portrayed the video as a ruinous rebuke to Johnson’s account of the kiss.
“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 — who was appreciative that she had just spent eight months away from her family on the campaign trail for his campaign,” Harder wrote in a court filing about the video.
Harder continued that Johnson’s allegations “that Mr. Trump ‘forcibly’ kissed her, and kissed her ‘on the mouth,’ are entirely false.”
Johnson’s legal team, however, reached the opposite conclusion after watching the video. Hassan Zavareei, a lawyer for Johnson, told VICE News that the kiss described in the lawsuit constitutes battery. The video, he said, “corroborates exactly what Alva says.”
“Now, whether or not everybody will have been equally offended by that is, you know, an open question. But Alva was,” Zavareei said. “And she testified exactly why. She testified that she didn’t really know how to take it when it happened, that she was confused by it and felt uncomfortable.”
Johnson has previously alleged that she did not fully comprehend what happened to her until months later, when she heard the "Access Hollywood" tape of Trump bragging about how he brazenly kisses women.
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” he said. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
For Zavareei, the video also contradicts multiple Trump officials’ statements that Johnson’s account is not accurate. Many of those statements broadly refuted Johnson's claims, though one staffer, Karen Giorno, specifically told the New Yorker that she doesn't remember Johnson being in the RV at all. Giorno can be seen in the video.
In a declaration, Trump said that he did not know Johnson or recall having any interaction with her. He also said that he did not personally set the salaries for campaign staffers.
Cover: In an Aug. 24, 2016 photo, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump meets supporters organizing voter registration and support for his campaign just before a rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Fla. Alva Johnson, seen in the background of this photo wearing a Trump shirt and a hat, is alleging in a new lawsuit filed Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, that Inside the RV seen here, Trump kissed a member of his campaign staff without consent. (Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay Times via AP)