Author Christina Baker Kline came forward Thursday evening to accuse former president George H.W. Bush of groping her during a photo op, becoming the third woman to accuse the former president of sexual misconduct. And on Friday, a fourth woman, a former Republican state Senate candidate from Maine, made similar allegations.
In an essay she wrote for Slate, Kline said she decided to share her story after actresses Heather Lind and Jordana Grolnick spoke out about Bush brazenly fondling them during photo ops. Kline said her incident with the former president occurred in April 2014 when she was being honored at a Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy fundraiser. The former president, she wrote, even told her a variation on the same dirty joke that he told Lind and Grolnick before he groped them, as he squeezed her butt while telling her that his favorite author was “David Cop-a-feel.” Again, as in Lind’s and Grolnick’s cases, an official photograph commemorated the exact moment Bush’s harassment occurred.
When Kline told her husband about the incident while being driven to their hotel by a friend of the Bush family, she said the driver, a woman, “leaned back” and asked them to be “discreet.”
“Her comment wasn’t menacing,” Kline recalled. “But in that moment I thought: She has heard this before. The people around President Bush are accustomed to doing damage control. There must be many of us.”
At the time, Kline said, she didn’t want to speak out because of the attention that her accusation would bring to herself.
“I also didn’t want to seem opportunistic, as if I was reporting the former president’s transgression for publicity purposes,” she explained, noting that she did find it strange that people actually believe anyone “wants this kind of publicity.”
“He made a choice to do what he did to me,” she wrote, noting that Bush didn’t feel the need to wrap his arm around the butt of any the male authors honored at the fundraiser. “At the very moment when I was feeling honored to be recognized for my work … President Bush made clear to me that because I am a woman, I can be objectified, sexualized, reduced to a body part.” And she’s choosing to share her story now, she added, because of all the other women who are daring to share their own stories of sexual assault — and because of the hope that by speaking out she could help “to effect change.”
Kline also explained why she doesn’t buy people’s claim that Bush’s old age justifies or excuses his behavior — as well as the possible consequences that make women afraid to speak out about sexual assault.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Amanda Staples recounted a similar encounter she had with the former president in 2006, before he’d been confined to a wheelchair. The Portland Press Herald reported that Staples made the allegation in a post on her Instagram feed, which is marked private and unavailable to the general public. Staples, who was 29 at the time and running for a seat in the state Senate, wrote that Bush “grabbed my butt and joked saying ‘Oh, I’m not THAT President.’” The post was written alongside a photo of her standing next to the former president and she added, “I can only imagine how many women have had their butt grabbed in a photo op.”