Why I Spoke Up About Trump

A People Reporter's Account

For months Natasha Stoynoff watched Donald Trump's political rise and kept quiet. But seeing him boast about sexual assault—and then lie about it—left her feeling violated all over again.


Above Image | Melanie Acevedo
Natasha Stoynoff, photographed exclusively for People on Oct. 16, 2016.

"I'm doing okay," says former People writer Natasha Stoynoff. A bestselling author since leaving the magazine in 2009, Stoynoff, 51, knew she was making herself a political target when she stepped forward on Oct. 12 with a statement about Donald Trump. Three days earlier Trump had said that his caught-on-tape boasts of sexually assaulting women—by forcing kisses on them or grabbing their genitals without consent—were only "locker-room talk...just words." Stoynoff's account of a sexually aggressive December 2005 encounter with him starkly contradicted that. Swiftly, a Trump spokesperson said she had "fabricated" her story; the 70-year-old business mogul himself denounced Stoynoff from the campaign trail—"She lies!"—and told his supporters, "Look at her...I don't think so." Stoynoff took the assault on her attractiveness in stride. "I was obviously good-looking enough for him at the time to force-kiss me and insist that we were going to have an affair," she says. As for being called a liar on the global stage, she is similarly unfazed. "It's possible he just doesn't remember it," she says. "It was over 10 years ago, and I assume I am one of many, many women."

Indeed. In the six days following Trump's Oct. 9 statement that he never forced himself on women, nine others have spoken up with accusations of their own (below). And Stoynoff's former journalism professor at Ryerson University, Paul McLaughlin, and a half dozen of her friends and former colleagues have gone on the record to confirm that Stoynoff, even as she kept quiet to her People bosses, confided details of the assault right after it happened. McLaughlin recalls her, in tears, calling from her Florida hotel room that same night. "She wasn't sure what she should do," McLaughlin says. "I advised her not to say anything, because I believed Trump would deny it and try to destroy her." People East Coast news editor Liz McNeil, one of Stoynoff's confidantes, remembers the day Stoynoff got back from the Trump assignment. "She was very upset and told me how he shoved her against a wall," says McNeil. And friend Liza Herz says she was with Stoynoff in New York City months later when they ran into Trump's wife, Melania, as she carried her infant son Barron outside Trump Tower—an encounter that Mrs. Trump now maintains is also fiction. "They chatted in a friendly way," Herz says. "And what struck me most was that Melania was carrying a child and wearing heels."

Now, while the gentler of Stoynoff's doubters on Twitter challenge her to a lie-detector test and accuse her of trying to influence the election, Stoynoff has deactivated her social media accounts to avoid the uglier taunts. She chooses instead to focus on the "outpouring" she has received from women who've suffered at the hands of other men. "Women are talking about this, and they need to," Stoynoff says. "We cannot be silent anymore. I didn't tell my story for politics, I told it for women."

This is her story.

STOYNOFF'S ACCOUNT, IN HER OWN WORDS

"Just for the record," Anderson Cooper asked Donald Trump during the presidential debate last Sunday, "are you saying...that you did not actually kiss women without [their] consent?" "I have not," Trump insisted.

I remember it differently.

In the early 2000s, I was assigned the Trump beat for People magazine. For years I reported on all things Donald.

I tracked his hit show The Apprentice, attended his wedding to Melania Knauss and roamed the halls of his lavish Trump Tower abode. Melania was kind and sweet during our many chats, and Donald was as bombastic and entertaining as you would expect. We had a very friendly, professional relationship.

Then, in December 2005, around the time Trump had his now-infamous conversation with Billy Bush, I traveled to Mar-a-Lago to interview the couple for a first-wedding-anniversary feature story.

Our photo team shot the Trumps on the lush grounds of their Florida estate, and I interviewed them about how happy their first year of marriage had been. When we took a break for the then-very-pregnant Melania to go upstairs and change wardrobe for more photos, Donald wanted to show me around the mansion. There was one "tremendous" room in particular, he said, that I just had to see.

"I just start kissing them," he said to Bush. "It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us. I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.

Now, I'm a tall, strapping girl who grew up wrestling two giant brothers. I even once sparred with Mike Tyson. It takes a lot to push me. But Trump is much bigger—a looming figure—and he was fast, taking me by surprise and throwing me off balance. I was stunned. And I was grateful when Trump's longtime butler burst into the room a minute later as I tried to unpin myself.

The butler informed us that Melania would be down momentarily, and it was time to resume the interview.

I was still in shock and remained speechless as we both followed him to an outdoor patio overlooking the grounds. In those few minutes alone with Trump, my self-esteem had crashed to zero. How could the actions of one man make me feel so utterly violated? I'd been interviewing A-list celebrities for more than 20 years, but what he'd done was a first. Did he think I'd be flattered?

I tried to act normal. I had a job to do, and I was determined to do it. I sat in a chair that faced Trump, who waited for his wife on a love seat. The butler left us, and I fumbled with my tape recorder. Trump smiled and leaned forward.

"You know we're going to have an affair, don't you?" he declared, in the same confident tone he uses when he says he's going to make America great again. "Have you ever been to Peter Luger's for steaks? I'll take you. We're going to have an affair, I'm telling you." He also referenced the infamous cover of the New York Post during his affair with Marla Maples.

"You remember," he said. "'Best Sex I Ever Had.'"

Melania walked in just then, serene and glowing. Donald instantly reverted back to doting-husband mode, as if nothing had happened, and we continued our interview about their wedded bliss. I nodded at his hollow words and smiled at his jokes, but I was nauseated. It didn't seem to register to him in the slightest that what he'd done might have hurt or offended me or his wife.

An hour later I was back at my hotel. My shock began to wear off and was replaced by anger. I kept thinking, "Why didn't I slug him? Why couldn't I say anything?"

The next morning, anger became fear. Earlier in my trip I had tried to arrange a session at Mar-a-Lago's spa for my chronic neck problem—the spa was part of a private resort separate from the Trump residence—but they were booked up. Trump had gotten wind of that before the interview and called himself, asking the top massage therapist if he would come in extra-early to see me, as a favor to him.

I'd been up all night worrying—had I done something to encourage his behavior? But I decided to keep the appointment. I was running late and rushed to the spa with my luggage in tow. I found my designated therapist in a panic.

"I'm so, so sorry," I apologized. "Can we do 30 minutes and I'll pay you for the whole hour?"

"Never mind that. Mr. Trump was here waiting for you!"

"What? Where?"

"Here. In the massage room. Waiting for you. He waited 15 minutes, then had to leave for a meeting."

"But why was he here?" I asked. "Is he coming back?"

The therapist shrugged. I lay on the massage table, but my eyes were on the doorknob the entire time. He's going to show up, and this guy's going to let him in with me half naked on a table. I cut the session short, got dressed and left for the airport.

Back in my Manhattan office the next day, I went to a colleague and told her everything.

"We need to go to the managing editor," she said. "And we should kill this story—it's a lie. Tell me what you want to do."

But like many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it ("It's not like he raped me..."); I doubted my recollection and my reaction. I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me, especially if I got his coveted People feature killed.

"I just want to forget it ever happened," I insisted. The happy-anniversary story hit newsstands a week later, and Donald left me a voice mail at work, thanking me.

"I think you're terrific," he said. "The article was great and you're great."

"Yeah," I thought. "I'm great because I kept my mouth shut."

I asked to be taken off the Trump beat, and I never interviewed him again. A few months later I saw Trump at the memorial service of a mutual friend, designer Oleg Cassini. We were both giving eulogies, but I avoided him. That winter I actually bumped into Melania on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower as she walked into the building, carrying baby Barron.

"Natasha, why don't we see you anymore?" she asked, giving me a hug.

I was quiet and smiled, telling her I'd missed her, and I squeezed little Barron's foot. I couldn't discern what she knew. Did she really not guess why I hadn't been around?

Except with a few close friends and family, I didn't talk about the incident. In time I chalked it up as one of the hazards of a roller-coaster ride of celebrity journalism: I'd danced barefoot in Cannes with John Travolta, sung with Paul McCartney, talked about Bogie with Bacall and quoted Shakespeare with Brando, and Prince Andrew had yelled at me until I cried. Oh, and Donald Trump had forced himself on me. I tried to make myself believe it was no big deal.

Only it was.

Now he's running for President of our country. The other day I listened to him talk about how he treats women on the Access Hollywood tape. I felt a strong mix of emotions, but shock wasn't one of them.

I was relieved. I finally understood for sure that I was not to blame for his inappropriate behavior. I had not been singled out. As he explained to Billy Bush, it was his usual modus operandi with women. I felt deep regret for not speaking out at the time. What if he had done worse to other female reporters at the magazine since then because I hadn't warned them?

And lastly, I felt violated and muzzled all over again.

During the presidential debate, Donald Trump lied about kissing women without their consent. I should know. His actions made me feel bad for a very long time.

They still do.

Four years after the Trump incident, I left the magazine to write screenplays and books—a few are New York Times bestsellers.

I'm not sure what locker-room talk consists of these days. I only know that I wasn't in a locker room when he pushed me against a wall. I was in his home, as a professional, and his beautiful, pregnant wife was just upstairs.

Talk is talk. But it wasn't just talk in my case, it was very much action.

And just for the record, Mr. Trump, I did not consent.


He Said, She Said, She Said, She...

'100% fabricated and made-up charges,' Trump tweeted Oct. 15 after these women, one by one, aired their stories. 'Outright lies,' he said.

Mindy McGillivray

"I felt a grab, a little nudge," McGillivray told the Palm Beach Post of Trump's touching her rear end in January 2003, when she was 23 and working at an event at Mar-a-Lago. She says she decided not to "make a scene."

Summer Zervos

The former Apprentice contestant says she was expecting career advice when she met Trump at an L.A. hotel in 2007. Instead he "began kissing me...very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast," Zervos says.

Jill Harth

While pursuing a business partnership with Trump in 1992-93, she says, he put his hand up her skirt, and, another time, in his daughter Ivanka's Mar-a-Lago bedroom, "he's pushing me against a wall and has his hands all over me."

Temple Taggart McDowell

The 1997 Miss Utah told NBC she was 21 when the Miss USA pageant owner made her "super-uncomfortable" with more than one unwanted kiss on her mouth. "I remember feeling kind of embarrassed."

Kristin Anderson

The photographer told The Washington Post she was in an N.Y.C. nightclub in the early '90s when the stranger beside her—she recognized Trump's eyebrows—reached up her skirt and touched her vagina through her underwear.

Cathy Heller

When introduced at a Mar-a-Lago brunch in the '90s, Trump pulled her in for a kiss on the mouth, she says. When she said no, he kissed her anyway. "He was angry. He really grabbed me and was holding me very tight."

Jessica Leeds

"He was like an octopus," the former businesswoman told The New York Times of sitting next to Trump on a flight more than 30 years ago. He grabbed her breasts and tried putting his hand up her skirt, she says.

Cassandra Searles

On Facebook the 2013 Miss Washington recalled how Trump treated Miss USA contestants "like cattle," adding: "He continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room."

Rachel Crooks

Crooks was 22, a receptionist in Trump Tower, when Trump forced a kiss on her outside an elevator, she says. "I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that," she told the Times.