quarta-feira, 20 de julho de 2016
Jill Harth, woman who sued Trump over alleged sexual assault, breaks silence
Jill Harth, woman who sued Trump over alleged sexual assault, breaks silence
Harth stands by claims of incident described in 1997 lawsuit as ‘attempted rape’ and wants apology from Donald Trump: ‘Don’t call me a liar
Lucia Graves in New York
Wednesday 20 July 2016 19.19 BST
A woman at the centre of sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump has spoken for the first time in detail about her personal experience with the billionaire tycoon who this week became the Republican nominee for president.
Jill Harth, a makeup artist, has stayed quiet for almost 20 years about the way Trump pursued her, and – according to a lawsuit she instigated – cornered her and groped her in his daughter’s bedroom.
After Trump mounted his campaign for the White House, details emerged of the 1997 complaint, in which Harth accused him of “attempted ‘rape’”.
She said she was quickly inundated with interview requests from major US television networks, but resolved not to speak about the events – until Trump publicly said in May that her claims were “meritless” and his daughter Ivanka gave an interview in which she said her father was “not a groper”.
Harth, who feels she has been publicly branded a liar and believes her business has suffered because of her association with the allegations, decided to speak out about her experience with Trump because she wants an apology.
In an hour-long interview at the Guardian’s New York office on Tuesday, Harth said she stands by her charges against Trump, which run from low-grade sexual harassment to an episode her lawyers described in the lawsuit as “attempted ‘rape’”.
She first met Trump in December 1992 at his offices in Trump Tower, where she and her then romantic partner, George Houraney, were making a business presentation. The couple wanted to recruit Trump to back their American Dream festival, in which Harth oversaw a pin-up competition known as American Dream Calendar Girls. Harth described that meeting as “the highlight of our career”.
But in other ways, it was something of a lowlight: Trump took an interest in Harth immediately and began subjecting her to a steady string of unwanted sexual advances, detailed by Harth in her complaint.
There was the initial leering in that first December meeting in Trump Tower, and the inappropriate questions after her relationship status. It continued the next night over dinner at the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room, where at a dinner with beauty pageant contestants she alleges he groped her under the table.
It culminated in January 1993, when Harth and Houraney were visiting his Florida mansion, Mar-a-Lago, to finalize and then celebrate the beauty pageant deal with a party.
After business concluded, Harth and Houraney were on tour of Mar-a-Lago along with a group of young pageant contestants – Trump wanted to “see the quality of the girls he was sponsoring”, Harth recalled – when he pulled her aside into one of the children’s bedrooms.
“He pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress again,” Harth said, “and I had to physically say: ‘What are you doing? Stop it.’ It was a shocking thing to have him do this because he knew I was with George, he knew they were in the next room. And how could he be doing this when I’m there for business?”
Donald Trump in 1992 at his Mar-a-Lago estate, where Harth says ‘he pushed me up against the wall, and had his hands all over me and tried to get up my dress’. Photograph: Alamy
Speaking as Republicans gathered in Cleveland to formally declare Trump as the party’s candidate in the November general election, Harth said she had been very reluctant to talk after the sexual assault allegations resurfaced, “because honestly, it was painful for me to have to do it again. It was stressful, it gave me anxiety, it definitely wounded my marriage – it wasn’t the death knell, but it wounded it, it was stressful having to handle this.”
She recalled how Trump – who had just gone through a divorce from his first wife, Ivana, and was in a relationship with Marla Maples, who would become his second wife – pursued her and urged her to leave Houraney.
“Trump did everything in his power to get me to leave him. He constantly called me and said: ‘I love you, baby, I’m going to be the best lover you ever had. What are you doing with that loser, you need to be with me, you need to step it up to the big leagues.’
“He was constantly working on me during that time and that took a toll on me. But I moved on. I’m a forgiving type person, OK? I’m a Christian, I moved on.”
‘They tried to get me to say it never happened’
Trump’s decision to run for president brought the question to the fore for her once more. And initially, she said she was inclined to let bygones be bygones.
She concedes she even found herself getting excited at the thought that someone she knew so well was running for president.
A recent Trump rally she attended seemed to confirm her decision to lie low. “‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to say anything bad, we’ve moved on, we’re friendly,’” Harth recalled in her interview with the Guardian.
When Trump thanked her and gave her a hug, she thought he wouldn’t say anything either.
The interaction, Harth said, reaffirmed her decision to stay quiet. That is, until she saw Trump dismiss media reports referencing her case as “meritless”, or worse.
After the New York Times ran a story in May this year about Trump’s history with women, including an account of Harth’s story, Trump’s campaign even reached out to her to pressure her to take back her account, she told the Guardian on Tuesday.
“His office – and I have it on my voicemails that he called, that they called – they asked me to recant everything when the New York Times article came out. They were trying to get me to say it never happened and I made it up. And I said I’m not doing that,” she recalled. Trump’s office denied this.
She was further upset by an interview Trump’s daughter Ivanka gave in the wake of the New York Times article saying her dad is “not a groper”.
“I understand that the girl wanted to defend her dad, being it’s her dad,” she said, “but what did she know? She was 10 years old! She was 10 years old at the time. She didn’t know what her father was about, what he was doing, how he was acting.”
Such statements felt defamatory to Harth, adding insult to injury. That’s when she hired attorney Lisa Bloom to demand that Trump retract his statements that are, as Bloom put it, “effectively calling her a liar”.
Nobody was defending me, that's why I'm talking … I went through hell and I still have to relive this again
“Jill is very clear that she is not a liar,” Bloom said. “And her reputation is important to her. And her living a life free of this kind of stress is important to her. So we’re calling on not only Mr Trump, Ivanka Trump, too.”
The renewed controversy comes as Trump prepares to give his keynote speech in Cleveland on Thursday. It also comes as Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of Trump-friendly Fox News, is in the process of being ousted following a sexual harassment suit filed by a former anchor.
When Trump’s office was asked to respond to Harth’s allegations, they highlighted her inconsistency about her views on Trump, forwarding emails from 2015 and as recently as January 2016 in which she expressed friendly feelings about Trump and even asked about a job helping to do his campaign trail makeup.
As Harth wrote in an August 2015 email forwarded by Trump’s campaign: “I also would like to show my support for Donald and his campaign. I am offering my services to do his grooming and getting him perfectly camera ready for photos and Hi-Definition TV. He knows better than anybody how important image is.”
In another email from October 2015, she praised Trump for “doing a tremendous job of shaking things up in the United States” and added: “I am definitely Team Trump!”
Harth said those emails were written months before Trump called her integrity into question. She also defended her action, as a businesswoman who has never been too proud to look for help where she needs it, even if it smacks of opportunism.
Harth said of her wish for an apology from Trump: ‘I don’t fully expect one.’
Meanwhile the fact that Trump has an army of staffers and family defending him is part of what inspired her to speak out, she said.
“Nobody was defending me, that’s why I’m talking,” Harth said. “You can believe it or not, but I went through hell and I still have to relive this again. And I just, I’m horrified that I have to think about this again.”
Michael Cohen, executive vice-president and special counsel to Donald Trump, responded by email to a Guardian request for comment, saying: “It is disheartening that one has to dignify a response to the below absurd query. Mr Trump denies each and every statement made by Ms Harth as these 24-year-old allegations lack any merit or veracity.
“Hope [Mr Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks] will forward to you under separate e-mail, a series of e-mails documenting Ms Harth’s support of Mr Trump, the race for the White House as well as seeking a job opportunity with the campaign.”
In an earlier phone call, Cohen said Harth had “massive credibility issues”.
Speaking in Cleveland at the Republican national convention on Wednesday, Roger Stone, a veteran strategist and longtime Trump adviser, dismissed the allegations, saying: “I have an excellent bullshit detector.”
Stone added: “A verbal agreement is entirely unprovable … So it’s more he said, she said. Sure sounds like bullshit to me.”
Such responses from the Trump camp aren’t new and neither is the lawsuit, which Harth brought forward in 1997. She dropped it weeks later after Trump settled an outstanding business lawsuit from her partner Houraney claiming he broke contract by backing out of the American Dream festival. (Houraney sued for $5m but settled with Trump for a smaller, undisclosed amount.)
Houraney met Harth when she was still in high school and though he didn’t witness any of the alleged incidents with Trump, aside from that first meeting in Trump Tower, Houraney has never doubted her. “I know they’re all true,” he said of the allegations. “I knew her way too long to think she could make up stuff like that, It wasn’t in her. She wasn’t capable of making up the things she said in that thing.”
Harth told the Guardian she expected very little from Trump. “I’m not going to get an apology from him. That would be nice, but he – I don’t fully expect one. But he really should have been taught, if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything, OK? Don’t call me a liar.
“He didn’t have to say anything. For once, he should have closed his mouth. He didn’t have to comment. We were on great – not great, I’ll take that back – we were on good terms, friendly terms. He didn’t – he started this. What is happening now is of his own making, OK? I was quiet.”