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Unpacking the twisted child-rape allegation against Donald Trump
There are reasons this story isn’t dominating the headlines.
Allegations claiming Donald Trump once raped a 13-year-old girl resurfaced on Wednesday following news that the alleged victim, who is now in her mid-30s, was prepared to speak publicly for the first time.
The alleged victim—“Jane Doe,” known by the pseudonym “Katie Johnson” in an earlier lawsuit—failed to appear, however, at a scheduled press conference at the Los Angeles office of a prominent attorney, Lisa Bloom, who also represents three women who have accused Trump, the Republican nominee, of inappropriate sexual contact. Speaking briefly to reporters gathered in her office Wednesday afternoon, Bloom said Doe’s decision to cancel the press conference was prompted by threats.
“Jane Doe has received numerous threats today, as have all the Trump accusers that I have represented,” said Bloom. “She is living in fear. She has decided that she’s too afraid to show her face. She’s been here all day, ready to do it, but unfortunately, she’s in terrible fear. So we’re going to have to reschedule.”
It is unclear when or if Doe will come forward, but with the presidential election less than a week away, a slew of news outlets, many of which have approached the accusations in the past with cautious skepticism, now appear eager to spotlight the case. It’s impossible to predict what impact the story could have on the election given that more than a dozen women have already accused Trump of sexual misconduct. Recent polls show those stories don’t appear to have troubled Trump’s ardent supporters, and even critics of his behavior within the Republican party say they won’t be voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton on Nov. 8. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, with whom Trump has frequently quarrelled, confirmed this week that he voted for his party’s nominee.
Trump has adamantly denied ever sexual assaulting or inappropriately touching anyone and claims a 2005 recording in which he describes sexually assaulting women was nothing but “locker room banter.”
For better or worse, Doe’s anonymity is the primary reason her story hasn’t gained much traction: Being forced to retract an anonymously sourced story, in the event the allegations of a serious crime are disproven, can swiftly end the career of a reporter if not permanently tarnish the reputation of his or her publisher. As Ryan Grim, a reporter for the Huffington Post, wrote in dissecting the media’s reservations:
“To go forward with an anonymous source shifts responsibility for the veracity of the claims from the accuser to the reporter. If the person is named and on record, the reporter can argue that he or she is merely reporting what the person is saying, and people are free to believe her or not. But giving anonymity says something different to an audience. It suggests, I, as a journalist, have investigated this person and these charges, and find them sufficiently credible to bring them forward without a name attached.”
So far, no reporter has been willing to make that leap of faith, to sign their own name where Doe’s would be, had she a face and name. This has drawn the ire of many readers on social media who have accused the media of simply ignoring the case. Compounding the problem, reporters who have started to investigate the veracity of Doe’s claims encountered a cast of characters who appear financially and politically motivated to get the story out. (A person who appears to represent Doe to reporters, and who previously tried to sell her story to Gawker Media, was recorded telling a Jezebel reporter, “Suck my dick, bitch.”)
Meanwhile, Doe hasn’t trusted any reporters with her identity. The only journalist to ostensibly speak with Doe was apparently left unsatisfied by the encounter: “I don’t know if the Katie Johnson I spoke to is the same girl who Trump allegedly raped in 1994, or if that girl even exists,” wrote Emily Shugerman, a writer at Revelist, whose interview was arranged by Doe’s attorney.
Despite the lack of context surrounding the allegation, it is nevertheless newsworthy given its proximity to the presidential election. With that in mind, below is an abridged version of Doe’s account, as well as information gathered by reporters concerning her associates.
Doe’s allegation is not new
Doe previously represented herself in a case alleging rape by Trump in California, but the case was tossed out by a judge on procedural grounds. The new case, filed in Manhattan, is essentially a repeat, only this time Doe is represented by a New Jersey patent lawyer named Thomas Meager and is no longer referring to herself as “Katie Johnson.”
Doe alleges that in the summer of 1994 she was raped repeatedly at parties thrown by Jeffrey Epstein, an American financier who was convicted in 2008 of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. Trump and Epstein were known friends at the time, though as reporters have pointed out, this is not evidence Trump was aware of Epstein’s illicit activities. Epstein had numerous famous friends who frequented his mansion, including Katie Couric, Charlie Rose, and others. Former President Bill Clinton also once flew on Epstein’s plane with actor Kevin Spacey; presumably neither were aware Epstein was having sex with minors at the time.
“She is living in fear. She has decided that she’s too afraid to show her face.”
In Doe’s account, she was “enticed by the promises of money and a modeling career to attend a series of parties” at Epstein’s home. She claims Trump attended at least four of these parties. According to an interview Trump gave to New York Magazine, he had known Epstein for seven years at that time. (Trump mentioned once that Epstein loved beautiful women, as he did, but preferred them “on the younger side.”) Doe alleges that Trump knew she was 13 and at each of the parties engaged with her sexually. The claimed rape, described in vivid detail, allegedly occurred on the fourth encounter. Doe alleges Trump tied her to a bed, raped her—at the time she was still a virgin, she says—struck her with his open hand and told her he would do “whatever he wanted.”
According to Doe’s court complaint: “Immediately following this rape, [Trump] threatened [Doe] that, were she ever to reveal any of the details of the sexual and physical abuse of her by [Trump], [Doe] and her family would be physically harmed if not killed.” Epstein also allegedly threatened Doe and her family.
Doe has stated that she has suffered, as a direct result of the rape, “stress, emotional distress, and mental pain and suffering, as well as adverse physical consequences.” Further, she has been subjected to “public scorn, hatred, and ridicule and has suffered threats against her life and physical safety,” the complaint says.
Doe has witnesses
An individual identified in Doe’s complaint as “Tiffany Doe” is reportedly a former employee of Epstein’s willing to corroborate the story in court. According to a signed affidavit to Jane Doe’s lawsuit, Tiffany Doe says she met Epstein in 1990 when she was 22. “In the year 1991, I was promoted to the occupation of party planner in which my duties were to get attractive adolescent women to attend these parties,” Tiffany Doe states. She goes on to explain how she met Jane Doe at the Port Authority in New York City and persuaded her to attend one of Epstein’s parties. “I told her that, if she would join me at the parties, she would be introduced to people who could get her into the modeling profession and she would be paid for attending.”
Tiffany Doe claims at one of these parties she witnessed Jane Doe being forced to perform “various sexual acts” with Trump and Epstein. “Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Epstein were advised that she was 13 years old,” she states. She also alleges witnessing Trump force a 12-year-old girl identified as “Maria” to perform oral sex. Like Jane Doe, Tiffany Doe claims that Epstein threatened her life if she ever disclosed any information about the physical or sexual abuse she allegedly witnessed.
A second witness, identified as “Joan Doe,” has also reportedly agreed to testify that she was a childhood classmate of Jane Doe’s and that she was informed about the rape during the 1994-95 school year.
Some of Doe’s backers have political ties
An article by Jezebel reporter Anna Merlan details a months-long attempt to scrounge up enough information to do the story justice, or at the very least make it newsworthy. Unable to do so, Merlan wrote instead about her attempts to reach Jane Doe—then known as Katie Johnson—and the roadblocks encountered during her investigation.
“The story quickly became about the people guarding access to this person, and whether or not she existed,” Merlan told the Daily Dot. “I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in how this sausage was made, but it really seemed worth noting that the alleged victim herself was being shielded from view pretty hard.”
According to Merlan, she received an unsolicited email from a group called “Vote Trump Get Dumped,” which offered to connect her with Steve Baer, a politically active conservative, allegedly in touch with Doe. Baer, it turned out, was also the father of Chandler Smith, the founder of the anti-Trump group. The group appeared eager to revive the rape allegations, Merlan wrote, even if they proved false. (Baer reportedly insisted the story was worth writing even if it were an “incredibly elaborate hoax.”)
Baer told Merlan by phone that he had learned about the allegations from a man named “Al Taylor,” whom Merlan says previously tried to sell information related to Doe’s lawsuit to Gawker Media.
“The story quickly became about the people guarding access to this person, and whether or not she existed.”
Merlan later received a video from an anonymous tipster purporting to depict Doe telling her story. The interview subject, pixelated from the neck up and apparently dressed in a wig, described being raped by Trump at Epstein’s mansion. “I was 13,” she said. The subject went on to described Trump behaving one evening like “a different person,” tearing her clothes from her body while she was tied to a bed. He called her a “bitch,” and robbed her of her virginity as she cried and begged him to stop, she said.
Both Taylor and Baer seemed unable, or unwilling, to connect Merlan with the person known as Katie Johnson. However, Baer continued to push Merlan to write about the allegations while, it seems, attempting to play on a reporter’s fear of getting scooped. Merlan obliged a couple of weeks later, but turned her focus on the “cadre of men” pushing the rape story, approaching the tale with heavy skepticism. During this time, Doe was a phantom, represented only by legal documents and an unattributed video apparently shot in a hotel room.
Taylor is allegedly lying about his identity
The media’s skepticism was furthered by a report in the Guardian in early July, which claimed Al Taylor was, in fact, Norm Lubow, a former producer on the Jerry Springer TV show. The Guardian reported that Lubow “has previously been involved with disputed allegations that OJ Simpson bought illegal drugs on the day Simpson’s wife was murdered, and that Kurt Cobain’s widow had the Nirvana frontman killed.”
Taylor has adamantly denied being Lubow; according to the Guardian, however, Taylor communicated using a phone number tied to Lublow. A “longtime associate” of Lubow also confirmed he had used the name “Al Taylor” in the past.
Four days after publishing her story, Merlan received a text message purportedly from “Katie,” which was sent from a phone number listed in court filings from Doe’s first now-dismissed case. But when she called the number, Taylor answered instead, and Merlan began recording the conversation. Upset about her story, Taylor lashed out at Merlan, at one point yelling: “I think you’re a piece of shit and you can suck my dick, bitch.” Daily Beast reporter Brandy Zadrozny, who had also covered the case, also reported receiving harassing phone calls from Taylor—“about a dozen each night since the article ran,” she told Merlan—who called from the same number.
Doe explained her relationship with Taylor, whom she reportedly met a Christmas party, to the Revelist’s Shugerman this way: “He knows a lot about a lot of different fields that just have been really helpful to this entire thing, and I couldn’t have done it without him. I wouldn’t have done it without him.”
Doe’s new lawsuit differs slightly
Doe’s first lawsuit was reportedly filed without any legal guidance, so naturally it would be formatted much differently than the one filed in Manhattan. The New York Daily News first reported on these differences:
“Gone from the new lawsuit is an allegation that Trump threw money at the plaintiff for an abortion when she expressed fear about getting pregnant after being raped. Gone, too, is the allegation that Trump called co-defendant and accused pedophile and sex party host Jeffrey Epstein a ‘Jew bastard,’ and her request for $100 million in damages.”
An assistant to Lisa Bloom, Doe’s new attorney, listed on Wednesday’s press release did not return multiple requests for comment.
Trump is scheduled to appear before a federal judge for a status update on Dec. 16, more than a month after Election Day.
Update 7:57pm CT, Nov. 4: On Friday, Jane Doe formally dismissed her lawsuit against Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein. Her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, issued a tweet about Doe’s decision that evening.
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.