Maine women among 5 to say former President George H.W. Bush groped them in photo shoots

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The number of women accusing former President George H.W. Bush of groping them has grown to five, with two of them saying he did so during photo shoots in Maine.

The women include two actresses, a Pennsylvania journalist, a best-selling author raised in Bangor and a former Maine Senate candidate.

Amanda Staples, a former Republican state Senate candidate from Standish, wrote in an Instagram post that Bush fondled her in 2006. Staples, who was 29 at the time and running for the Kennebunkport area’s Senate seat, visited the former president at Walker’s Point when he “grabbed my butt and joked saying ‘Oh, I’m not THAT President,’ ” Staples wrote alongside a picture of her standing next to Bush.

Christina Baker Kline Photo by Karin Diana

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“I can only imagine how many women have had their butt grabbed in a photo op,” she added in the post, noting that if she had a daughter “I’d never tell her to shrug it off because he was president.”

The allegations – which come amid a wave of sexual harassment and assault scandals that have ensnared movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Fox host Bill O’Reilly, MSNBC political analyst Mark Halperin and other powerful men – threaten to tarnish the legacy of the 41st president, who spends summers at the family estate in Kennebunkport and has enjoyed a family-man image since leaving the White House in 1993.

Best-selling author Christina Baker Kline on Thursday night posted on Slate an account of being groped by Bush in 2014, and an actress who witnessed Bush groping her roommate during a photo shoot at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 2016 said the former president had earned a reputation among the staff and recurring crew for grabbing women’s rears during his visits to the theater.

“A lot of backstage people – stage hands and wardrobe people – warned us that last time he’d come in he was a little creepy,” Emma Sohlberg, part of the cast of last summer’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” told the Portland Press Herald in an interview. “I got the impression that every time he sees a show, the same thing happens.”

Kline told the Press Herald that since the Slate story came out, numerous women had reached out to her sharing similar experiences with Bush. “They are understandably reluctant to step forward because it is not fun to be in this place,” Kline, who grew up in Bangor, said Friday from her home outside New York City. “It’s a very uncomfortable experience.”

Bush – who is 93, has a Parkinson’s-like condition and uses a wheelchair – has not publicly addressed the allegations, but his spokesman acknowledged the behavior in a prepared statement after the first two women spoke out.

Actress Heather Lind Reuters/Mark Blinch

“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,” James McGrath said. “Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”

McGrath declined to comment on the latest allegation from Staples and instead referred to his earlier statement.

In three of the accounts, when the women stood next to him for photographs, Bush told the same joke: that his favorite book or magician was “David Cop-a-Feel” and then grabbed their rears as the pictures were being taken.

The initial account by actress Heather Lind on her Instagram page Tuesday said Bush had done that to her in 2014 as they posed with Barbara Bush during a promotional event for the AMC cable network show she stars in.

“He touched me from behind with his wife Barbara Bush at his side,” Lind wrote. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”

A second actress, Jordana Grolnik, told Deadspin on Wednesday that the president had done the same thing to her in Maine during a backstage photo shoot for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Before the incident, backstage at the Ogunquit Playhouse in August 2016, Grolnik said other actors had told her Bush had a reputation for fondling, but she didn’t take it seriously. Then, with Barbara Bush standing behind him “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?’” Grolnik said. “As I felt his hand dig into my flesh, he said, ‘David Cop-a-Feel!’ ”

Grolnik said others in the room laughed in discomfort and Barbara Bush said something along the lines of, “He’s going to get himself in jail.”

Jordana Grolnik Twitter photo

Sohlberg, who was standing next to Grolnik in the group photograph, corroborated Grolnik’s account of what had happened.

“Jordana and I shared a room, and we talked about it the rest of the summer,” she recalled. “We called our moms and said, ‘This crazy thing happened, and there wasn’t anything we could do.’ ”

Sohlberg said what she found most disturbing was the apparent enabling by Bush’s handlers. “I by no means hold the theater at fault or accountable, and I don’t think they were putting us in danger,” she said. “But the fact that Barbara was in there making jokes with him – it was sort of set up knowing this would happen to us.”

Kline, the third woman to come forward, is a 1982 graduate of Bangor High School and bestselling author whose novels include “Orphan Train.” In an article posted on Slate, Kline revealed she was groped by Bush in April 2014 while in Houston for a Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy fund-raiser.

Former President George H. W. Bush

“You want to know my favorite book?” Kline said Bush whispered to her as they prepared to have their picture taken. “David Cop-a-Feel,” he answered and then “squeezed my butt hard, just as the photographer snapped the photo.”

She told the Press Herald that the interaction was particularly cruel because she had thought he was engaging her in a conversation about literature, something she cared about, only to have him turn it “into a joke where he squeezed my butt. It was a shock.”

The most awful part, she said, came when a friend of the Bush family drove her and her husband back to their hotel from the event, heard them discussing what had happened, and coolly asked them to be “discreet” about the incident, Kline said. “That was a sort of the chilling moment when both of us realized that this is something that had happened before, that everyone knew it was happening, and they weren’t surprised and were doing damage control.”

Kline also said that until this week she never thought she’d come forward with her story, both because she didn’t want to court publicity and “be known for this,” but also because she supports – and continues to support – Barbara Bush’s literacy efforts.

“But when those two women came forward and the Bush response was that he was trying to put people at ease because of this joke, or that that was where his hands fell (from his wheelchair level), I knew because of what had happened to me, with exactly the same line, that this was such a distortion of what actually happened and was such a callous refutation of their testimony that I ultimately felt I had to say something,” she said. “If we want to try to change the dominant culture, this feels like a moment for people to step forward and say, ‘We’re not OK with this anymore.’”

A fifth woman, former Erie Times-News editorial page editor Liz Allen, posted on Facebook on Thursday that Bush had touched her behind inappropriately during a local business association event he spoke at in June 2004, that paper reported. “It was cool to be in a photo with a former president,” wrote Allen, who is now the Democratic nominee for an Erie city council seat. “But I remember feeling uncomfortable with that pat or touch on my behind.”

She also pointed out that Bush was not in a wheelchair at that time.

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  • Stephen Parker

    This is bull-oney The guy is 92. I guess the whack-jobs’lll come out now. And come out hard. My ex ran a nursing home, for Veterans, and guess what they did all the time? And guess what the COPS or nurses did? NOTHING! He’s 92. He ran this Country pretty well. Give this old man a break! He earned it. He certainly did. I served under him. I’ll protect him! Guess what? A few other million people will too!

    • cappy12

      Mr. Parker, I’m a military veteran, too, but I cannot condone your comments in this forum. I see little substance in your narrative, and you have purposely avoided specifics when addressing knowledge you’ve learned about the nursing home your ex directed..To claim any victims who may come forward, speaking of prior similar experiences are potentially ( ” whack jobs ” ) is an affront to those humans who have suffered shame, were afraid to speak out..
      As a veteran, you once took an oath before basic training, by which you swore to follow every lawful direct order which was given to you..
      This does not mean if Bush Sr. ordered you to drive a get-away car, you are to blindly follow such an illegal request..To the best of my knowledge, the US state in which I reside defines ( assault ) as ( unwanted touching or body contact towards another human, without this person’s permission )
      Repeat, ( assault )
      It is your responsibility to seek the truth, and do your own homework.
      Perhaps you are correct in your statement that others would protect Bush Sr, too…But, I’m allowed my opinion, just like you..So just allow me to state this, it is MY truth.. I’d consider protecting him, but only under the condition that he be placed in a cell located at Guantanamo Bay..I’d be happy to guard that cell, for as long as necessary..And, I would make great use of my time by telling him stories..about all of the dirty secrets that the public knows about him..
      Few folks know he is a southpaw who played first base in a jersey #2..And, it gets more interesting…I can be specific, when I write..Your style is more geared to innuendo..The sad thing I suspect is that if he would ever grope your daughter or wife, he would get a free pass from you, because, in your eyes, Bush Sr. is above the law..You seem to allude to many supporters who feel as you do..But, my gut radar tells me that you and your gang are out-numbered…
      Because, these victims ( whom you refer to as “whack jobs ” ) have many more supporters than you think..I would never waste my time, trying to argue with a complete sheep, a blind follower…Conversely, I wrote this comment in support of the victims…In my eyes, Mrs. Bush deserves legal repercussions, as she clearly had knowledge, and ( by error of omission ) she turned a blind eye…It is shameful that Barbara did nothing, it nullifies any charitable works she has done…Hands cannot be good, while the eyes pretend to be blind..I truly have nothing more to say, except I’m wondering how you passed the entrance exam to get into military service ? I’m unsure how you could cross the street safely, on your own..Sad, really..( such a troll )

      • cappy12

        Every single person has a motive, and Bush Sr has one….He may have just gone to the water well one too many times, though.
        A great detective knows one important thing..
        It is this-
        When someone purposely draws attention to themselves, the biggest thing one should ask themselves is this –
        ( why am I looking exactly in the direction he/she is pointing me ? )
        It’s an old magician trick…( watch my right hand closely, so you do not see what my left hand is doing )

        Why would he commit multiple simple assaults on camera ? Victims have similar stories-Bush waits for the camera to flash, he does the groping in full view…
        Hard evidence, scandalous, for sure..Even Barbara does nothing…
        The best detectives would ask this- what is happening ( other direction ) that I’m not supposed to see ?

        If Senior wants us to take our eyes off ( James Comey, Loretta Lynch, Hillary, Barack, Pelosi, etc etc etc ) this might be his solution..
        This is no longer the Barnum and Bailey Circus…

        I see you think that you are David Copperfield..
        Clever, clever..

        But, my real, true interests lie in the direction that he does not want me to look…

        Senior, I do know you’d like to save your friends and partners
        But policework, and detectives have come a long way since your military days,
        Your 15 minutes are up..
        Grope any buttocks you like, sir, you have enough cash to settle out of court, anyway..
        The buttocks I’m interested in are those you are hoping I will look away from, as you try to steal the spotlight..
        Like those on the list above, and more..

        Taunting the public with a Copperfield/ Cop-a-feel…joke.

        George, next time, don’t do it on camera..
        It was too obvious, and not sneaky at all.
        And, it is exactly what did you in..
        No wonder Barbara did not do a thing..
        She thinks HW is the greatest thing since sliced bread..

      • Stephen Parker

        Thanks, Cappy.
        Sorry if my choice of words offended. And I didn’t say a thing about Barbera (NOT that you accused me of it). Bottom line? He’s 92 years old! I used to visit my girlfriend as she worked the Maine Veterans Home hospital and would routinely witness both male & females inappropriately ‘touching’ each other.
        My term ‘whack-jobs’ was insensitive, and uncalled for. But they did. They were clearly mentally unbalanced, as I believe GWB to be.
        If he were to grab my Wife or Daughter’s bottom? I would politely scold him and warn him not to do that again. I wouldn’t send him to GITMO. I’ve been there many times. No, NOT as a prisoner.