Is it even physically possible that Donald Trump sexually assaulted a woman on a plane in the 1980s? One woman, now in her 70s, says yes. The Trump camp says no. Internet sleuths, however, also say yes.
At least five women came forward yesterday to talk about their experiences with unwanted sexual advances from Donald Trump. One of those women, Jessica Leeds, told the New York Times about how Trump sexually assaulted her on an airplane in the early 1980s. According to Leeds’ account to the New York Times, Trump “lifted the armrest” and “grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.”
Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson went on CNN last night and claimed that not only was Leeds lying, but that there was an easy way to debunk the woman’s allegations: Look at the designs of first-class seats for planes in the early 1980s.
“We’re talking about the early 1980s, Don, seriously,” Pierson said on CNN. “Back then you had planes, what, a DC-9, a DC-10, an MD-80, a 707, and maybe an L-1011. But she said specifically that this was to New York. And this is what’s important, so we can X-out the L-1011 and the DC-10. Guess what? First-class seats have fixed armrests.”
CNN Aviation editor Jon Ostrower took to Twitter with a smattering of photos, showing possible seat arrangements for first class cabins in the early 1980s. As you can see from the photos, the armrests can flip up and aren’t “fixed” as Pierson claims.
The first photo shows a lounge seat from a Lockheed L-1011, one of the planes that Pierson claims wasn’t in service in New York during the early 1980s. Except that it was. And the photos of the seats clearly show an armrest that can move.
As one person notes on Flickr, the L-1011 “lounge seats were numbered, and made available to paying passengers only in an oversale situation. Otherwise, they were left open for discretionary use of passengers in First Class.”
These particular lounge seats were positioned just in front of seats 1A and 1B on the L-1011, and even had a partition that partially obscured views from other passengers.
We also have home movie footage from the early 1980s of planes flying in and out of New York airports that aviation nerds have posted to YouTube over the years. The footage shows just what kinds of aircraft were flying into New York during that time. And you can clearly see from 1980s footage that the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar was flying into New York.
Yes, it does look like there are some planes that were flying into New York during the early 1980s with armrests in first class that didn’t flip up. The Boeing 747, for instance, doesn’t appear to have moveable armrests—which is driving Trump supporters wild. They claim that the existence of armrests that stowed away in the early 1980s is a liberal media conspiracy to destroy Donald Trump.
Trump supporters on Reddit are also doing their own investigative work, claiming that Pierson’s claim (which she may well have sourced from Reddit given how closely the Trump campaign tracks internet chatter and “borrows” images), is completely true. If there aren’t any armrests that move, they claim, Leeds must be lying about the fact that Trump sexually assaulted her on a flight.
Other pro-Trump sleuths have made claims that the photos that Ostrower tweeted are being misrepresented. For instance, one person claims that the photo of an L-1011 seat are from a Convair 880. This simply isn’t true.
That same person claims that the DC-8 (another aircraft flying into New York in the early 80s) hasn’t flown in 35 years. This, again, simply isn’t true.
The DC-8 photo that the Trump supporter is referring to (seen above) was taken in 1978:
November 29, 1978: Additions to Braniff International’s fleet of intercontinental McDonnell Douglas DC-8-62s will be equipped with Atlantic Aviation’s “wide-body look” interior system, as seen here on one of their eight -62s already outfitted.
Frankly, it’s a bit depressing that the internet is fighting over armrests in the face of so much other evidence about Donald Trump’s past. Evidence that includes Donald Trump bragging on tape about how he grabs the genitals of women without their permission. But here we are.
Update, October 15, 2016 4:50pm: We now know more about the type of plane that Leeds and Trump were allegedly on, and it further debunks the conspiracy theories that the armrests weren’t moveable.