"They were trying to get me to say it never happened and I made it up," Jill Harth told The Guardian on July 20. "And I said I'm not doing that."
This was the moment the makeup artist from Florida staked her claim in the 2016 election. The ex-beauty pageant producer — and former Donald Trump supporter — has now secured legal counsel and is standing by her 1997 sexual harassment lawsuit against the Republican nominee.
Harth first met Trump through the business she ran with her husband — American Dream Calendar Girl Model Search.
The year was 1992, and Trump wanted to get into the beauty pageant industry. After meeting with the couple in New York, Trump offered to partner with them on their pageant. But according to Harth's lawsuit, he had his eye on a different prize.
At the couple's first meeting with Trump, Harth alleges, he turned to her husband and asked "Are you sleeping with her?" The couple informed Trump that they were married. That didn't stop the mogul from allegedly introducing Harth to business colleagues as his "new girlfriend," and attempting to grope her under the table, according to her '97 suit.
Harth claims this harassment culminated one night in 1993, at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. Harth alleges that Trump led her into one of his children's bedrooms after a business meeting.
"What she says is that he forced her into this private bedroom — a children's bedroom — closed the door, and forced her up against the wall," Harth’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, told Revelist. "He was much bigger and stronger than she was. She said he reached his hand up her skirt and touched her private parts and she said, 'Stop it, stop it,' and pushed him off of her and ran off."
This took place in the context of a business relationship, in which Harth and her husband were attempting to curry favor with Trump.
"She was navigating through what many many women who are sexually harassed navigate through," Bloom told Revelist. "You don't want to destroy the business relationship, you want to do the deal, but you don't want to be groped."
Bloom says Harth used defensive tactics like positioning herself away from Trump, scooting her chair away from him at meetings, and even pushing his hands off her when he tried to grope her.
"She kept hoping he would get the message and stop," Bloom said, "but he didn't."
While Harth's story may sound familiar to those who have been sexually harassed, it also raised eyebrows.
LawNewz, a law-centric publication, dug up Harth's old lawsuit this year, in the context of Trump's presidential campaign. The article drew questions from both sides: Why did Harth file — and also withdraw — her lawsuit so quickly? Why did she express support for Trump's campaign? And why is she returning to her claims now, after years of silence?
A combination of court documents, conversations with her lawyer, and recently-released interviews with Harth herself provide some possible answers.
When Harth first filed her lawsuit in 1997, Trump's attorneys claimed her husband engineered the whole thing.
American Dream had filed a lawsuit against Trump two years before, alleging a breach of contract in their pageant partnership. The suit also included the harassment Harth endured. Yet, in meetings and depositions for the American Dream suit, Bloom says, Harth was shut down when she tried to discuss the harassment.
Harth says the last straw was when she happened to enter the law office elevator with Trump. He didn't speak to her, but instead turned to his attorney and said, "See, I told you she was a great piece of ass."
"The combination of her not being allowed to talk about [the harassment] in the deposition and him insulting her in the elevator made her want to file her own case," Bloom told Revelist.
The Trump team maintains that Harth concocted her harassment suit to put pressure on Trump to settle. But Bloom says that the harassment suit was Harth's own doing, stemming from fears that her complaints were not being heard in her husband's suit.
"There's a couple of passages in the deposition where she says things like, 'Yeah, we were at the meetings and under the table he's putting his hands up my skirt,' Bloom told Revelist. "And the lawyers would cut her off and say 'We're not here to talk about that today.'"
While Harth's deposition is not included in the case files, several documents back up Bloom's claim that Trump's attorneys tried to silence her client.
In a letter marked August 16, 1996, Trump's lawyer petitioned the judge to make Harth's deposition in the American Dream case confidential.
"At Ms. Harth's deposition, she frequently gave non-responsive answers and made assertions of sexual advances by Mr. Trump," attorney Adam Saravay wrote in the letter obtained by Revelist. "…In order to protect Mr. Trump from the disclosure of these harassing and irrelevant allegations to the public, the motions should be sealed."
Another letter argues the harassment allegations should be struck from the record completely because they're "irrelevant, impertinent, and scandalous."
The suit she filed on her own — Jill Harth vs. Donald Trump, Nick Ribis and Robert Wagner — contains even more troubling details.
Harth contended that Trump excluded all Black American Dream contestants from the parties he hosted at Mar-a-Lago, and promised many of the contestants career advancement in exchange for sexual favors.
When asked if Harth still stands behind these claims today, Bloom told Revelist, "All of the factual allegations, she says, are still true."
Yet, Harth withdrew her suit in 1997, shortly after it was filed — and shortly after Trump settled with American Dream for an undisclosed sum.
"She was — I don't want to say forced — but she was strongly encouraged to drop it, to withdraw it, as part of the settlement,"Bloom told Revelist. Harth herself admits she was exhausted by the whole ordeal, and wanted it to be "over with and done with." So she willingly withdrew the suit.
In the years following, Trump, Harth, and her husband, George Hourany, returned to a cordial relationship. The couple eventually divorced, and Harth moved to New York to become a makeup artist. By 2015, Harth said she was ready to forgive and forget — so much so that she supported Trump for president.
When The Guardian asked the Trump campaign about the claims, they forwarded emails from Harth in 2015 and early 2016 in which she expresses support for the candidate. In one email, she offered to help him with his makeup. ("She thought he could use some help with that," Bloom admitted.)
Of the claims, Trump's current attorney, Michael Cohen said, "Mr. Trump denies each and every statement made by Ms. Harth, as these 24-year-old allegations lack any merit or veracity."
Harth readily admits to offering her makeup services to the candidate, and even to attending one of his rallies. But she refuses to accept the Trump camp's narrative that she is lying.
"He can say whatever he wants," Harth said in an interview with LawNewz. "I know it's true."
In fact, Trump's denial of her claims is what motivated her to ditch Team Trump in the first place. When LawNewz broke the story of the lawsuit in February, Trump's attorney said there was "no truth to the story at all." When The New York Times mentioned the suit again in May, Trump dismissed the article as "false, malicious & libelous."
When Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, went on national television to claim her father is "not a groper," Harth decided she'd had enough.
"She was 10 years old at the time, she was playing with crayons," Harth told LawNewz. "She didn't know what her father was like."
Harth fired back at Trump via Twitter — the same medium she used to connect with Bloom.
Bloom told Revelist she accepted the case because, "it seems to me that the mainstream media is ignoring these allegations, and I find that very concerning."
Currently, Harth is only asking that Trump and his daughter withdraw their statements on the issue. But Bloom told Revelist that all legal options remain open, and drew parallels to another one of her high-profile cases: Bill Cosby. Bloom sued when Cosby refused to retract negative statements about her client Janice Dickinson. The case is now headed to trial.
"I take it very seriously when people malign women when they come forward with stories of sexual harassment or sexual assault," Bloom warned.