Donald Trump had barely met Rowanne Brewer Lane when he asked her to change out of her clothes.
“Donald was having a pool party at Mar-a-Lago. There were about 50 models and 30 men. There were girls in the pools, splashing around. For some reason Donald seemed a little smitten with me. He just started talking to me and nobody else,” Brewer Lane said.
She continued: “He suddenly took me by the hand, and he started to show me around the mansion. He asked me if I had a swimsuit with me. I said no. I hadn’t intended to swim. He took me into a room and opened drawers and asked me to put on a swimsuit.”
Brewer Lane, at the time a 26-year-old model, did as Trump asked. “I went into the bathroom and tried one on,” she recalled. It was a bikini. “I came out, and he said, ‘Wow.’”
Trump, then 44 and in the midst of his first divorce, decided to show her off to the crowd at Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Florida. “He brought me out to the pool and said, ‘That is a stunning Trump girl, isn’t it?’” Brewer Lane said.
Donald Trump and women: The words evoke a familiar cascade of casual insults by the presumptive Republican nominee for president, hurled from the safe distance of a Twitter account, a radio show or a campaign podium.
But the 1990 episode at Mar-a-Lago that Brewer Lane described was different: a debasing face-to-face encounter between Trump and a young woman he hardly knew. This is the private treatment of some women by Trump, the up-close and more intimate encounters.
The New York Times interviewed dozens of women who had worked with or for Trump over the past four decades and women who had dated him or interacted with him socially. In all, more than 50 interviews were conducted.
Their accounts reveal unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct, according to the interviews, as well as court records and written recollections.
What emerges from the interviews is a complex, at times contradictory portrait of a provocative man and the women around him, one that defies simple categorization.
Pressed on the women’s claims, Trump disputed many of the details, such as asking Brewer Lane to put on a swimsuit. “A lot of things get made up over the years,” he said. “I have always treated women with great respect. And women will tell you that.”
But in many cases there was an unmistakable dynamic at play: Trump had the power, and the women did not.
For Brewer Lane, her introduction to Trump at Mar-a-Lago was the start of a whirlwind romance — a heady blur of helicopter rides and high-end hotel rooms and flashing cameras.
“It was intimidating,” she said. “He was Donald Trump, obviously.”
The Company of Women
With his purchase of the Miss Universe Organization, Trump was in the business of young, beautiful women.
Temple Taggart, the 21-year-old Miss Utah, was startled by how forward he was with young contestants like her in 1997, his first year as the owner of Miss USA, a branch of the beauty pageant organization. As she recalls it, he introduced himself in an unusually intimate manner.
“He kissed me directly on the lips. I thought, ‘Oh my God, gross,’” Taggart said. “He was married to Marla Maples at the time. I think there were a few other girls that he kissed on the mouth. I was like ‘Wow, that’s inappropriate.’”
Trump disputes this, saying he is reluctant to kiss strangers on the lips.
His level of involvement in the pageants was unexpected, and his judgments, the contestants said, could be harsh. Carrie Prejean, who was 21 when she participated in the Miss USA contest in 2009 as Miss California, was surprised to find Trump personally evaluating the women at rehearsal.
“We were told to put on our opening number outfits — they were nearly as revealing as our swimsuits — and line up for him onstage,” she wrote in her memoir, “Still Standing.”
“Donald Trump walked out with his entourage and inspected us closer than any general ever inspected a platoon. He would stop in front of a girl, look her up and down, and say, ‘Hmmm.’ Then he would go on and do the same thing to the next girl. He took notes on a little pad as he went along,” Prejean wrote.
She continued: “It became clear that the point of the whole exercise was for him to divide the room between girls he personally found attractive and those he did not. Many of the girls found the exercise humiliating. Some of the girls were sobbing backstage after he left, devastated to have failed even before the competition really began to impress ‘The Donald.’”
Trump, in an interview, said he would “never do that.” Such behavior, he said, would bruise egos and hurt feelings. “I wouldn’t hurt people,” he said. “That’s hurtful to people.”
A Preoccupation With Bodies
Inside the Trump Organization, the company that manages his various businesses, Trump occasionally interrupted routine discussions of business to opine on women’s figures. Barbara A. Res, Trump’s former head of construction, remembered a meeting in which she and Trump interviewed an architect for a project in the Los Angeles area. Out of the blue, she said, Trump evaluated the fitness of women in Marina del Rey, California. “They take care of their asses,” he said.
“The architect and I didn’t know where he was coming from,” Res said. Years later, after she had gained a significant amount of weight, Res endured a stinging workplace observation about her own body from Trump. “‘You like your candy,’” she recalled him telling her. “It was him reminding me that I was overweight.”
Her colleague Louise Sunshine experienced similar observations from Trump when she gained weight. But she saw it as friendly encouragement, not a cruel insult. “He thought I looked much better thin,” she said. “He would remind me of how beautiful I was.”
Trump frequently sought assurances — at times from strangers — that the women in his life were beautiful. During the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant, he sat in the audience as his teenage daughter, Ivanka, helped to host the event from onstage. He turned to Brook Antoinette Mahealani Lee, Miss Universe at the time, and asked for her opinion of his daughter’s body.
“‘Don’t you think my daughter’s hot? She’s hot, right?’” Lee recalled him saying. ‘I was like, ‘Really?’ That’s just weird. She was 16. That’s creepy.”
Women as Trusted Colleagues
To build his business, Trump turned to women for a simple reason: They worked hard — often harder than men, he told them.
When Trump hired Res to oversee the construction of Trump Tower, he invited her to his apartment on Fifth Avenue and explained that he wanted her to be his “Donna Trump” on the project, she said. Few women had reached such stature in the industry.”
“He said: ‘I know you’re a woman in a man’s world. And while men tend to be better than women, a good woman is better than 10 good men,’” Res said. “He thought he was really complimenting me.”
Trump entrusted several women in his company with enormous responsibility — once they had proven themselves worthy and loyal. Sunshine had little experience in real estate, but as a top campaign fundraiser for then-Gov. Hugh Carey of New York, she had fulfilled a lifelong wish for Trump: She secured him a vanity license plate with his initials, DJT, which adorned his limousine for years.
Sunshine worked for Trump for 15 years, becoming a major New York real estate figure in her own right. Res remained at the company for 12 years, left after a disagreement over a project and then returned as a consultant for six more years. Both expressed gratitude for the chances Trump had taken on them.
In a rough-and-tumble industry thoroughly dominated by men, Trump’s office stood out for its diversity, recalled Alan Lapidus, an influential architect who designed the Trump Plaza casino in Atlantic City.”
“He is a lot more complicated than the cartoon character. The top people in his company were women, like Barbara Res,” Lapidus said. “For any company to hire a woman as chief of construction was actually startling. I don’t know of a single other developer who had a woman in that position. The respect for women was always there. That’s why, in spite of the comments he makes now — and God knows why he says these things — when he was building his empire, the backbone was women.”
Wife and Partner, and Regret
No single figure better encapsulated the paradoxes of Trump’s treatment of women in the workplace than his first wife, Ivana.
He entrusted her with major pieces of a corporate empire and gave her the titles to match. She was the president of Trump’s Castle, a major casino in Atlantic City, and the Plaza Hotel, the storied complex on Central Park South in Manhattan. “She ran that hotel,” Res said. “And she ran it well.”
But he compensated her as a spouse, not a high-level employee, paying her an annual salary of $1 for the Trump’s Castle job, according to her tax documents. And he grew to resent her outsize role. By the end of their marriage, Trump wrote in his 1997 book, “The Art of the Comeback,” he regretted having allowed her to run his businesses.
“My big mistake with Ivana was taking her out of the role of wife and allowing her to run one of my casinos in Atlantic City, then the Plaza Hotel,” Trump wrote. “The problem was, work was all she wanted to talk about. When I got home at night, rather than talking about the softer subjects of life, she wanted to tell me how well the Plaza was doing, or what a great day the casino had.
“I will never again give a wife responsibility within my business.”
He seems to have kept his word. His current wife, Melania, has marketed her own lines of beauty products and jewelry. But Trump remains mostly uninvolved in her work. After calling it “very successful,” he struggled to describe it. “What is it, on television with the sales?” he asked.
Accusations and Denials
Once his first marriage started to collapse, Trump faced his most serious allegations of aggression toward women.
When “Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump,” by journalist Harry Hurt III was released in 1993, it included a description of a night in which Trump was said to have raped Ivana in a fit of rage. It also included a statement from Ivana that Trump’s lawyers insisted be placed in the front of the book. In the statement, she described an occasion of “marital relations” during which “I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited toward me, was absent.”
“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me,” the statement said. “I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
Trump denied raping Ivana, and she did not respond to a request for comment. After the allegation re-emerged in the news media last year, Ivana said in a statement, “The story is totally without merit.”
In the early 1990s, Jill Harth and her boyfriend at the time, George Houraney, worked with Trump on a beauty pageant in Atlantic City, and later accused Trump of inappropriate behavior toward Harth during their business dealings. In a 1996 deposition, Harth described their initial meeting with Trump at Trump Tower.
“Donald Trump stared at me throughout that meeting. He stared at me even while George was giving his presentation,” Harth said in the deposition. “In the middle of it he says to George, ‘Are you sleeping with her?’ Meaning me. And George looked a little shocked and he said, ‘Well, yeah.’ And he goes, ‘Well, for the weekend or what?’”
Houraney said in a recent interview that he was shocked by Trump’s response after he made clear that he and Harth were monogamous.
“He said: ‘Well, there’s always a first time. I am going after her,’” Houraney recalled, adding: “I thought the man was joking. I laughed. He said, ‘I am serious.’”
By the time the three of them were having dinner at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel the next night, Trump’s advances had turned physical, Harth said in the deposition.
“Basically he name-dropped throughout that dinner, when he wasn’t groping me under the table,” she testified. “Let me just say, this was a very traumatic thing working for him.”
Harth, who declined to comment, gave the deposition in connection with a lawsuit that alleged Trump had failed to meet his obligations in a business partnership. Trump settled that case but denied wrongdoing. Harth withdrew her own lawsuit against Trump alleging unwanted advances, but she has stood by her original claims.
Trump said it was Harth who had pursued him, and his office shared email messages in which Harth, over the past year, thanked Trump for helping her personally and professionally and expressed support for his presidential candidacy.
Defending His Record
Trump says the world misunderstands his relationship with women.
He sees himself as a promoter of women — a man whose business deals have given them untold opportunities for employment and advancement. “Hundreds and hundreds of women, thousands of women, are the better for it,” he said.
Several women who have held positions of power within the Trump Organization in recent years said they had never known Trump to objectify women or treat them with disrespect.
“I think there are mischaracterizations about him,” said Jill Martin, a vice president and assistant counsel at the company. Martin said Trump had enthusiastically supported her decision to have two children over the past five years, even when it meant working from home and scaling back on business travel.
“That’s hard with women lawyers,” she said. “For me, he’s made it a situation where I can really excel at my job and still devote the time necessary for my family.”