Update: Late Thursday afternoon, a woman said George H.W. Bush touched her inappropriately in 1992, at a fundraiser for his re-election campaign. This article has been updated to reflect that information.
Eight women have accused former President George H.W. Bush of groping them. The first allegations appeared three weeks ago, after sexual assault allegations against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein led women to share their own stories of sexual harassment and assault on social media using the #metoo hashtag. As allegations against Bush increase, they catalog a history of the former U.S. leader inappropriately touching women.
In a now-deleted Instagram posted on October 24, actress Heather Lind said that Bush groped her in 2014 during a photograph taken at a screening of TURN: Washington’s Spies, a television series in which Lind starred. “He didn’t shake my hand,” Lind wrote. “He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side. He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again. Barbara rolled her eyes as if to say ‘not again’. His security guard told me I shouldn’t have stood next to him for the photo.”
Since Lind’s initial allegation, other women have come forward about similar experiences with Bush. Actress Jordana Grolnick told Deadspin that Bush groped her after a 2016 production of Hunchback of Notre Dame at the theater company where she worked. The incident occurred when Bush came backstage during the play’s intermission and took a photo with the cast.
“We all circled around him and Barbara for a photo, and I was right next to him,” Grolnick said. “He reached his right hand around to my behind, and as we smiled for the photo he asked the group, ‘Do you want to know who my favorite magician is?’ As I felt his hand dig into my flesh, he said, ‘David Cop-a-Feel!’”
Author Christina Baker Kline wrote in Slate that Bush groped her in 2014 during a photo at a fundraiser for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She recalled that Bush made a similar “David Cop-a-Feel” joke when he groped her, but with a set-up about his favorite book, not magician. Amanda Staples, a former candidate for the state senate in Maine, said that Bush made a slightly different joke when he groped her in 2006. “He also grabbed my butt and joked saying ‘Oh, I’m not THAT President,’” Staples wrote in an Instagram post about the incident. Liz Allen, a retired journalist, wrote in a Facebook post that Bush groped her at an event in 2004. “#metoo. Guess what? He did this to me when we posed for a photo after the Manufacturer and Business Association dinner, after the Pat Locco scholarship was awarded.”
Two additional allegations have surfaced this week. On Monday, Roslyn Corrigan told TIME that she was sixteen years old when Bush groped her in 2003 during a photo at an event at the Texas Central Intelligence Agency in The Woodlands, when Corrigan’s father and other intelligence officers and their families met with Bush. “My initial reaction was absolute horror. I was really, really confused,” Corrigan said to TIME. “The first thing I did was look at my mom and, while he was still standing there, I didn’t say anything. What does a teenager say to the ex-president of the United States? Like, ‘Hey dude, you shouldn’t have touched me like that?’”
On Tuesday, Megan Elizabeth Lewis, a Broadway actress, said that Bush groped her in 2009 during a photo that he asked her to take with him at a performance of Legally Blonde: The Musical in Houston.
Jim McGrath, a spokesperson for Bush, who has not responded to a request for comment as of press, has not denied the allegation. McGrath issued a statement after Lind’s allegation, stating that “President Bush would never — under any circumstance — intentionally cause anyone distress, and he most sincerely apologizes if his attempt at humor offended Ms. Lind.” McGarth then released another statement the next day:
At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures,” McGrath said. “To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.
Bush has vascular parkinsonism, which has symptoms similar to Parkinson’s, including difficulty walking and slow movements. But Allen and Lewis noted that he was not in his wheelchair and was mentally sharp during the incidents when he groped them. According to the accounts of three of the women, those around Bush were aware of his actions, including his security guard and Barbara Bush. In Slate, Kline wrote that as she discussed the incident with her husband in the car afterwards, their driver, a friend of the Bush family, advised them to be “discreet” about what had happened:
Her comment wasn’t menacing. 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, I remember thinking. And now I know there are.
As more women have come forward, some accusers have recognized the importance of speaking publicly about their experiences. Grolnick first laughed off the incident, but now takes the matter more seriously. “Now that the #metoo movement has brought this all to light, I think I should have been a little more alarmed to be touched so inappropriately by a man who was once the leader of the free world,” she told Deadspin. “He knows the power he has, and the reverence he deserves, even while sitting perhaps somewhat senile in a wheelchair.”
As the #metoo movement continues, women (and a few men) reexamine and share their stories of harassment and assault at the hands of powerful men, calling for a reckoning that holds these leaders accountable for generations of oppressive behavior towards women. As the last few weeks have demonstrated, that behavior seeps into every industry, from entertainment, to media, to politics, often affecting women’s well-being and livelihood. The offenses are serious, regardless of whether they directly impact an individual’s profession. “It wasn’t OK for him to do that to me,” said Grolnick. “He wasn’t able to give me a job or a movie deal, so I didn’t feel compromised or pressured to do anything more, but the comments and assumptions about our bodies must stop, at all levels.” While those close to Bush have used his age and illness to excuse his actions, the #metoo hashtag has prompted many, including his accusers, to rethink how to hold all men accountable for their treatment of women.