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Christina Baker Kline, left, stands with Pres. George H.W. Bush and her husband David, at the photo op in which she says she was groped. COURTESY CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

She’s not alone.

Montclair author Christina Baker Kline was trending today on social media as the third woman to say publicly that she was groped by President George H.W. Bush from his wheelchair.

And since then, a fourth woman, Amanda Staples, has come forward, today in an Instagram post describing an incident in 2006, according to the Portland Press Herald. Staples, according to the Maine newspaper, is a former Republican state Senate candidate from Standish, Maine.

Since Kline, the author of bestselling novels “Orphan Train” and “A Piece of the World,” published “George H.W. Bush groped me too” on Slate.com yesterday, Oct. 26, she’s heard from five women, including a reporter, a Broadway actress, and a bestselling author, who all had the same or worse experiences with the former president.

“In these six hours [since posting the article] a number of people have come forward not only corroborating my story but also talking about a pattern that goes back a number of years,” Kline said.

One of the reasons she decided to tell the story was hearing spokespeople for the 93-year-old former president excuse the groping by referring to the president’s age, she said. The response that people had misunderstood left her “truly disgusted,” Kline said. “That’s not the way it happened.” It was a “sorry not sorry” apology, and it made her angry.

Kline wrote in her Slate.com article that President Bush groped her in April 2014, when she was invited to Houston for a Family Literacy Fundraiser.

At a photo op after a luncheon, the president beckoned her over, and asked her if she’d like to know what his favorite book was. She writes:

President Bush put his arm around me, low on my back. His comic timing was impeccable. “David Cop-a-feel,” he said, and squeezed my butt, hard, just as the photographer snapped the photo. Instinctively, I swiped his hand away.

Kline said the former president has two versions of the David Copperfield joke: the Broadway actress who reached out told her that in her case the president asked if she wanted to know who his favorite magician was.

“That takes some brain cells,” Kline said.

Kline said she definitely is not seeking publicity by coming forward — “I don’t need it, and it’s not the publicity I would ever want.”

She is the third woman to speak publicly about being groped by President George H.W. Bush. Actress Heather Lind posted on Instagram, in a post since deleted, that the former president groped her in 2014. Actress Jordana Grolnick told Deadspin that she had been groped in August 2016 backstage at a theater. Both incidences, like Kline’s, took place during photo ops.

Questions regarding her motivation are part of the reason she didn’t come forward sooner. The story has blown up: she was a Twitter moment. Television, radio and print have been calling. She has been cited in a Huffpost article about predatory behavior in old men and how we excuse it, and in a Slate article that explains how men use photo ops as a chance to grope women.

Kline has been tagged on Facebook and has seen some angry and rude comments. She isn’t on Twitter, but she also has had positive responses on Facebook, with lots of people wanting to tell their stories.

It’s not that the groping made her feel violated, Kline said, but that being reduced to a body part should not have happened.

“I was in this setting as an author,” Kline said. “When he said to me, ‘Do you know what my favorite book is, I thought he was initiating a conversation with me about writing, and reading, what I was there for.

“I leaned down with the full expectation he was engaging me in a conversation.”

She thought, “Wow, the president, this lovely man is going to tell me his favorite book. What a great thing.”

What happened was “such a slap in the face. It was so unexpected and so disrespectful. I was then the butt of his joke.”

Kline has asked the Broadway actress if she’d be willing to speak publicly, even on her Facebook page, about what happened to her decades ago, before George H.W. Bush was in a wheelchair. Kline said she hasn’t heard back yet.

By speaking out now, after Bush’s aides asked for discretion, she hopes to add depth to the way these incidents are viewed, and hasten change.

“My big takeaway today is that speaking up gave other people voices too,” Kline said.

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