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Trump lawyers say allegations of past sexual misconduct should be tossed from federal lawsuit about Tampa kiss

Alva Johnson in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. { Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges]
Alva Johnson in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. { Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges]
Published Jun. 5, 2019

TAMPA — Lawyers for President Donald Trump argued in federal court Wednesday that past allegations of the president's sexual misconduct are irrelevant to a lawsuit claiming Trump kissed a former campaign staffer without her consent before a Tampa rally in 2016.

The president's lawyers want to strike out several claims in Alva Johnson's lawsuit, which also alleges that Johnson, who is black, was paid less than her white, male colleagues.

The lawsuit focuses on an incident that Johnson, 44, claims happened on August 24, 2016 at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Johnson was in a Trump campaign RV moments before his appearance at a rally she helped organize when the then-candidate grasped her hand, thanked her for her work, and leaned in to kiss her on the lips, according to the lawsuit. Johnson said she turned her head and Trump kissed her on the corner of her mouth.

READ MORE: Trump campaign worker says he kissed her without consent

The lawsuit details other allegations of the president groping and kissing women without their consent, including the 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording where Trump can be heard describing these actions.

On Wednesday, Johnson's lawyer, Hassan Zavareei, argued these other cases and details are key to Johnson's case as they show a habit of inappropriate actions. He said it was only after the "Access Hollywood" recording made national headlines in October 2016 that Johnson chose to leave the campaign and ultimately seek legal options.

Charles Harder, a lawyer for the president and his campaign, argued that some of the allegations date too far back to matter for Johnson's case and that sexual assault and harassment allegations can be suspect. He brought up the example of Julie Swetnick, who backtracked on allegations she made against Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Harder also noted that eyewitnesses at the August 2016 Tampa rally, including former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, have denied Johnson's account.

Tracey Jaensch, also representing Trump in court on Wednesday, attacked Johnson's claims of pay discrimination.

She argued that Trump's 2016 presidential campaign was not a commercial enterprise, saying sales of campaign hats, pins and other merchandise count toward donations and are not commercial sales meant to compete with another vendor.

Zavareei pushed back, saying that various reports have shown how Trump's presidential campaign served to enrich him. And if it comes to it, he said, witnesses like Bondi will be questioned on their credibility.

"She is at the beck and call of Donald Trump," Zavareei said of Bondi.

U.S. Judge William Jung is expected to rule on the motion to dismiss the case and other requests by Trump's lawyers next Friday.

Zavareei said he hopes his client will get her day in court.

Contact Ileana Najarro at inajarro@tampabay.com. Follow @IleanaNajarro

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