Donald Trump is struggling to boost his approval ratings with one key demographic — women.
Many are skeptical because of his history of derogatory comments about women and disturbing questions about his behavior with women behind closed doors.
Jill Harth met Trump in 1992, when she and her then-fiance, George Houraney, were beauty pageant promoters wanting to do business with him. But starting with their very first meeting, she said, Trump sexually harassed her — and he kept harassing her over a period of years, culminating in a sexual assault at his Palm Beach estate.
Their business deal fell apart, and Harth and Houraney filed separate civil lawsuits. He sued for breach of contract and she alleged attempted rape. Trump settled with Houraney, and as a condition of the settlement, Harth withdrew her case.
But then this past May, The New York Times published an article describing incident after incident in which Trump allegedly mistreated and sexually harassed women. The article included quotes from a 1996 deposition in which Harth alleged that Trump behaved inappropriately toward her, staring at her and asking Houraney if they were sleeping together. She said in the deposition that Trump groped her under a table one night at dinner.
The article prompted Trump to take to Twitter and say that Harth and other women quoted were not telling the truth. Harth responded angrily on Twitter, saying that she was not a liar. Through her lawyer Lisa Bloom, Harth is demanding an apology from Trump. She came to WNYC's studio to talk about how she met Trump and what happened afterward.
In response to a request for comment, the Trump campaign said: "Mr. Trump denies each and every statement made by Ms. Harth, as these 24-year-old allegations lack any merit or veracity."
Below, read excerpts from the conversation between WNYC's Jami Floyd and Jill Harth.
You are not the only woman who claims Donald Trump sexually harassed her in some way, but you were the first to file a civil complaint for sexual assault. That was back in 1997; what did you allege?
Well, it was quite a long list of complaints. He knew I was engaged to somebody else, and he seemed to be very into trying to break that up. He was sexually harassing me, that’s it, plain and simple.
Tell us about the nature of the business relationship. You met Mr. Trump at Trump Plaza.
Yes. Yes, we met him at Trump Tower at his office in New York City. And we flew up from Florida especially for this meeting that we had really looked forward to and put a lot of hope and dreams into it. Right off the bat, Donald made it very clear at that meeting that he was interested in me. And I was, I was young at the time and I didn’t really know how to handle this. It was important that we got this deal, and made this happen.
So George Houraney and you were business partners, and romantic partners.
Did Donald Trump respect you as a business woman? Did he respect your romantic relationship with George?
He made a remark during the very first meeting and asked point blank if we were sleeping together — during the middle, in the middle of the presentation.
And your complaint alleges a persistent and consistent series of unwanted advances, the most egregious violation occurring at the Palm Beach estate, and I’ll quote the complaint:
Donald Trump forcibly removed you, the plaintiff, to a bedroom, whereupon defendant — that is, Donald Trump — subjected plaintiff to defendant’s unwanted sexual advances, which included touching the plaintiff’s private parts, in an act constituting attempted rape. How did that make you feel?
At the time I was very shocked, shocked was the word. And I am the type of person, even still, I get kind of a delayed reaction to things. It was a shock and I pushed him off of me. And I was, I said to him, What are you doing, why are you doing this? He put out that he’s the type of guy that gets what he wants. Donald gets what he wants. And he was annoyed and insulted that I wasn’t going for it with him. I believe, in his mind, he was — this was a come on for him, some kind of romantic overture. Whereas for me, it was unwanted and aggressive, very sexually aggressive.
Explain for those who don’t understand why a woman would not call the police.
If I called the police every time that somebody did something like that, I would, it would be ridiculous. It’s very frequent, if you’re halfway attractive in this world, especially at this time, to have things happen. You have to pick and choose your battles, all right? I didn’t know at the time that Donald was going to be consistently like this. I thought he would get the hint that if you say no, that was going to be the end of it.
Why did you keep it to yourself for so long, Jill?
I’m a forgiving person. I think it’s a good thing about me, but other people, maybe I’m too easy going. But I forgave the guy.
I became on friendly terms with him. So, what am I going to do? Hold on to this for 20 years, and have hate in my heart? No. I moved back home after my divorce, I’m from New York. You know, I live in the backyard of Trump land, everywhere you go it’s Donald Trump signs on everything, I had to move on and let it go. And I had no problem, you know, blocking it out very well, up until the press dug up the complaint.
Fast-forward to May, 2016, just before the Republican National Convention, and The New York Times runs the piece called Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private, and as you say, you declined to speak with them, but they dug up the complaint. As you point out, your claims from the 1990s are detailed in the Times article, and right after the piece ran, Trump took to Twitter to blast the paper for "false, malicious, and libelous" reporting. What was your response to that?
I passed down every major news outlet, every ABC, CNN, CBS, every one of them, because I didn't want to have to talk about this. So I was dealing with this for a while, before The New York Times came out, but that's when you know, then it started to affect my business. And honestly, it was embarrassing. It's been an embarrassment for me to be affiliated with him.
But you replied directly to Donald Trump’s tweet –
[The tweet said:]"My part was true, I didn’t talk. As usual, you opened your big mouth."
That’s right, right? That's right. And I, it’s pretty to the point.
No wonder the @nytimes is failing—who can believe what they write after the false, malicious & libelous story they did on me.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2016
Jill, it has been reported that as recently as last year, you thanked Donald Trump for helping you professionally and expressed support for his candidacy, and that you even attended one of his rallies –
Why would you go to the political rally of a man you say had once attacked you?
Ok. All right. Fair, very fair question, all right. And I would love to answer it, I’m going to answer this very honestly because that’s one thing about me.
I’m a makeup artist. The guy is a mess, OK? He really needed my services, and I’m a makeup artist that needs a job. Why would, if I was on friendly terms, why wouldn’t I try to get that job?
When you saw him at the political rally, did you speak to him about the lawsuit or the sexual harassment claim?
Very briefly, I did. Yes, I did. You have to understand, Donald, when he saw me, here’s how this happened, I was requested to go back there. Secret Service brought me in.
Yes. He was happy I was there. He gave me — he said, Jill, gave me a big hug, So good to see you, he introduces me to people, This is Jill, oh, isn’t she great, everything — I’m wonderful and great, up until they dug up this thing and then I’m nothing but a liar.
At the rally, did you and he discuss the suit?
Yes, I said to him, very briefly, if anybody ever brings up anything about that, I’m not saying anything, only good things, OK, Donald? And he said OK, and he gave me like a hug, which to me meant, you know, if any normal person — you would assume they shut their mouth, too. But with Donald, he can’t resist an opportunity to answer. You know what, if he could have said nothing, that would have been great, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking here.
But now you’re going to defend yourself.
I’m defending myself, because nobody’s getting away with calling me a liar, and unstable or any of the horrible things — [I] lack credibility? What, in what way do I lack credibility?
So you and your husband both sued, Trump settled with your husband, you withdrew your case. Trump never settles anything. What happened?
He didn’t want to litigate my complaint, that’s for sure. He didn’t want to litigate and that was a condition, and honestly I was so worn down and sick from all of this, I said, fine. OK. Again, if hindsight was, you know, 20/20, I would have gone all the way.
What would you want people to know about Donald Trump?
I have a lot that I could say, and what I would like them to know. Donald is a show person. That's what I'm going to say. I've worked with him. What he says and what he does are two separate things, and he does not stick to his word. He will say anything to get what he wants. But he's not going to come through.
Civil complaint by Jill Harth against Donald Trump:
Editor's note: WNYC reached out to Donald Trump for an official response to Harth's allegations. He offered this statement through his attorney:
"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." -Michael Cohen
The Trump campaign also provided a series of emails to challenge Harth's credibility, as seen below: