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  1. Florida Politics

Crossing the line: Trump's private conduct with women

Donald Trump had barely met Rowanne Brewer Lane when he asked her to change out of her clothes.

"Donald was having a pool party at Mar-a-Lago. There were about 50 models and 30 men. There were girls in the pools, splashing around. For some reason Donald seemed a little smitten with me. He just started talking to me and nobody else," Brewer Lane said.

She continued: "He suddenly took me by the hand, and he started to show me around the mansion. He asked me if I had a swimsuit with me. I said no. I hadn't intended to swim. He took me into a room and opened drawers and asked me to put on a swimsuit."

Brewer Lane, at the time a 26-year-old model, did as Trump asked. "I went into the bathroom and tried one on," she recalled. It was a bikini. "I came out, and he said, 'Wow.' "

Trump, then 44 and in the midst of his first divorce, decided to show her off to the crowd at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach. "He brought me out to the pool and said, 'That is a stunning Trump girl, isn't it?' " Brewer Lane said.

Donald Trump and women: The words evoke a familiar cascade of casual insults by the presumptive Republican nominee for president, hurled from the safe distance of a Twitter account, a radio show or a campaign podium.

But the 1990 episode at Mar-a-Lago that Brewer Lane described was different: a debasing face-to-face encounter between Trump and a young woman he hardly knew. This is the private treatment of some women by Trump, the up-close and more intimate encounters.

The New York Times interviewed dozens of women who had worked with or for Trump over the past four decades and women who had dated him or interacted with him socially. In all, more than 50 interviews were conducted.

Their accounts reveal unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct, according to the interviews, as well as court records and written recollections.

What emerges from the interviews is a complex, at times contradictory portrait of a provocative man and the women around him, one that defies simple categorization.

Pressed on the women's claims, Trump disputed many of the details, such as asking Brewer Lane to put on a swimsuit. "A lot of things get made up over the years," he said. "I have always treated women with great respect. And women will tell you that."

But in many cases there was an unmistakable dynamic at play: Trump had the power, and the women did not.

For Brewer Lane, her introduction to Trump at Mar-a-Lago was the start of a whirlwind romance — a heady blur of helicopter rides and high-end hotel rooms and flashing cameras.

"It was intimidating," she said. "He was Donald Trump, obviously."

• • •

With his purchase of the Miss Universe Organization, Trump was in the business of young, beautiful women.

Temple Taggart, the 21-year-old Miss Utah, was startled by how forward he was with young contestants like her in 1997, his first year as the owner of Miss USA, a branch of the beauty pageant organization. As she recalls it, he introduced himself in an unusually intimate manner.

"He kissed me directly on the lips. I thought, 'Oh my God, gross,' " Taggart said. "He was married to Marla Maples at the time. I think there were a few other girls that he kissed on the mouth. I was like, 'Wow, that's inappropriate.' "

Trump disputes this, saying he is reluctant to kiss strangers on the lips.

His level of involvement in the pageants was unexpected, and his judgments, the contestants said, could be harsh. Carrie Prejean, who was 21 when she participated in the Miss USA contest in 2009 as Miss California, was surprised to find Trump personally evaluating the women at rehearsal.

"We were told to put on our opening number outfits — they were nearly as revealing as our swimsuits — and line up for him onstage," she wrote in her memoir, Still Standing.

"Donald Trump walked out with his entourage and inspected us closer than any general ever inspected a platoon. He would stop in front of a girl, look her up and down, and say, 'Hmmm.' Then he would go on and do the same thing to the next girl. He took notes on a little pad as he went along," Prejean wrote.

She continued: "It became clear that the point of the whole exercise was for him to divide the room between girls he personally found attractive and those he did not. Many of the girls found the exercise humiliating. Some of the girls were sobbing backstage after he left, devastated to have failed even before the competition really began to impress 'The Donald.' "

Trump, in an interview, said he would "never do that." Such behavior, he said, would bruise egos and hurt feelings. "I wouldn't hurt people," he said. "That's hurtful to people."

• • •

Inside the Trump Organization, the company that manages his various businesses, Trump occasionally interrupted routine discussions of business to opine on women's figures. Barbara Res, Trump's former head of construction, remembered a meeting in which she and Trump interviewed an architect for a project in the Los Angeles area. Out of the blue, she said, Trump evaluated the fitness of women in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Years later, after she had gained a significant amount of weight, Res endured a stinging workplace observation about her own body from Trump. " 'You like your candy,' " she recalled him telling her. "It was him reminding me that I was overweight."

Her colleague Louise Sunshine experienced similar observations from Trump when she gained weight. But she saw it as friendly encouragement, not a cruel insult. "He thought I looked much better thin," she said. "He would remind me of how beautiful I was."

• • •

To build his business, Trump turned to women for a simple reason: They worked hard — often harder than men, he told them.

When Trump hired Res to oversee the construction of Trump Tower, he invited her to his apartment on Fifth Avenue and explained that he wanted her to be his "Donna Trump" on the project, she said. Few women had reached such stature in the industry.

"He said: 'I know you're a woman in a man's world. And while men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men,' " Res said. "He thought he was really complimenting me."

Trump entrusted several women in his company with enormous responsibility — once they had proved themselves worthy and loyal. Sunshine had little experience in real estate, but as a top campaign fundraiser for then-Gov. Hugh Carey of New York, she had fulfilled a lifelong wish for Trump: She secured him a vanity license plate with his initials, DJT, which adorned his limousine for years.

Sunshine worked for Trump for 15 years, becoming a major New York real estate figure in her own right. Res remained at the company for 12 years, left after a disagreement over a project and then returned as a consultant for six more years. Both expressed gratitude for the chances Trump had taken on them.

In a rough-and-tumble industry thoroughly dominated by men, Trump's office stood out for its diversity, recalled Alan Lapidus, an influential architect who designed the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City."

"He is a lot more complicated than the cartoon character. The top people in his company were women, like Barbara Res," Lapidus said. "For any company to hire a woman as chief of construction was actually startling. I don't know of a single other developer who had a woman in that position. The respect for women was always there. That's why, in spite of the comments he makes now — and God knows why he says these things — when he was building his empire, the backbone was women."

Trump says the world misunderstands his relationship with women.

He sees himself as a promoter of women — a man whose business deals have given them untold opportunities for employment and advancement. "Hundreds and hundreds of women, thousands of women, are the better for it," he said.