George HW Bush has issued a second apology after an actor accused him of sexual assault, in which a spokesman admitted the former president had “patted women’s rears”.
Bush issued an initial apology on Tuesday after Heather Lind, who starred in the AMC cable television network’s historical drama Turn: Washington’s Spies, accused the former US president of groping her as they posed for photos together with his wife and others during a promotional event for the show in 2014.
A spokesman for Bush, who is 93, said then: “President Bush would never – under any circumstance – intentionally cause anyone distress, and he most sincerely apologizes if his attempt at humour offended Ms Lind.”
But Bush’s spokesman Jim McGrath, issued a further statement on Wednesday that sought to explain the former president’s behavior as an attempt to make light of social awkwardness posed by his own physical disability during photo sessions.
Confined to a wheelchair, as Bush has been for about the past five years, “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,” McGrath wrote. “To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.”
Meanwhile a second woman, actor Jordana Grolnick, told Deadspin a similar story.
Following a performance of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that Bush had attended in Maine, “We all circled around him and [former first lady] Barbara for a photo, and I was right next to him,” she told the website. “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!’”
Grolnick said others in the room “laughed politely and out of discomfort”, while Barbara Bush “said something along the lines of, ‘He’s going to get himself put into jail!’ to which we laughed harder”.
Lind’s allegation first appeared in an Instagram post in which the actor said that seeing photos of Bush, 93, shaking hands with Barack Obama during an appearance of all five living former presidents at Saturday’s hurricane fund-raising benefit reminded her of her own meeting with the president three years earlier, when, according to her, “he sexually assaulted me while I was posing for a similar photo”.
“He didn’t shake my hand. He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side,” Lind wrote. “He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again.”
Lind said the former first lady “rolled her eyes as if to say, ’not again’”.
The Instagram post, since deleted, carried the #MeToo social media hashtag spawned by the recent outpouring of sexual assault and sexual harassment accusations leveled against former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Dozens of actors and assistants have since come forward, including Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o and Léa Seydoux. Weinstein has denied engaging in non-consensual sex with anyone.
Police in New York City, London and Los Angeles are investigating Weinstein, who in the wake of the allegations was forced out of the Weinstein Company, the production company he co-founded with his brother, Bob Weinstein.
There has also been an increase in calls about sexual assault in the US to Rainn (the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. Rainn revealed this week that its national helpline has been inundated with 21% more calls than usual since the Weinstein allegations became public.
George HW Bush was vice-president under Ronald Reagan and then president from 1989 to 1993, during which he presided over the end of the cold war, fought a war against Iraq and signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Canada and Mexico. He was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992.