Friends Recall Hearing Claims by Trump Accuser Amy Dorris in 1997

Three weeks ago, a news story caught the attention of Dawn Capp, a Texas math teacher. A former model had accused President Trump of assault, the latest in a long line of sexual misconduct complaints against him. At the United States Open tennis tournament in 1997, the woman told The Guardian, he groped and forcibly kissed her.

Ms. Capp voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. But she immediately believed the story, she said in a telephone interview, because she had heard it more than two decades ago from Amy Dorris, the woman making the allegation and one of Ms. Capp’s oldest friends.

The Trump campaign has called Ms. Dorris’s account “totally false.” “This is just another pathetic attempt to attack President Trump right before the election,” Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to the Trump campaign, said in a statement.

In phone interviews, Ms. Dorris recounted meeting Mr. Trump during a strange, star-filled long weekend nearly a quarter-century ago. At the time, she was 24 years old, a Florida-based model and aspiring actress who was also working as a bartender to make rent. One night in Miami, she met Jason Binn, who was just a few years older but already had a magazine and a network of celebrity friends. After they had dated for two weeks, he whisked her off to New York.

The days were a blur of splashy events and celebrity encounters. Ms. Dorris met Leonardo DiCaprio and attended a memorial for the fashion designer Gianni Versace. Mr. Binn and Mr. Trump, then 51, seemed especially close. But as the new couple spent time with the real estate developer in his box at the U.S. Open, at Trump Tower and in limousines, he wouldn’t leave her alone, she said. He told her to picture herself living with him in Trump Tower. He tried to impress her with Trump-branded water and other gear. His hands wandered repeatedly to her waist and her legs, she said.

“It was like he claimed me — that’s how it felt,” she said.

On a Friday afternoon, he crossed a more serious physical line, Ms. Dorris said. During the tennis matches, Ms. Dorris excused herself to use a bathroom behind the box’s private seating area. When she emerged, Mr. Trump was waiting. He told her that she belonged with him and moved toward her, she said.

“It started as him trying to kiss me,” Ms. Dorris said. She said she had told him to stop, first with giggles, and then in a more serious tone. He had “a tiger grip — he wasn’t letting me go,” she said. Mr. Trump was shoving his tongue into her mouth, she said. “I couldn’t get loose from him,” she said. “His hands were all over me.” As she extracted herself, she pushed against his chest in protest, she said.

She returned to her seat, embarrassed, and pretended nothing had happened, but soon phoned her mother and a friend for counsel. (In phone interviews, both confirmed Ms. Dorris’s account of the calls.) Ms. Dorris said she had asked Mr. Binn for help in fending off Mr. Trump, but she doubts that she told him about the specifics of the encounter. “I didn’t process what was going on,” she said. “I don’t think I even understood it.”

The next day, as she and Mr. Binn sat with Mr. Trump in a limousine, her new boyfriend told the future president to back off from making advances to her, she said. Mr. Trump replied by laughing and telling Mr. Binn that Ms. Dorris was out of his league, she said.

Ms. Capp, the math teacher, said that soon afterward, her friend had told her the same story about Mr. Trump that she later told publicly. Kerri Whitfield, another friend, echoed those recollections, saying that Ms. Dorris had shared the story privately in the autumn of 1997. Neither friend has previously spoken publicly; both say they are confident of Ms. Dorris’s truthfulness.

Mr. Binn said that while he remembered the weekend, he had no recollection of Mr. Trump’s making any advances toward Ms. Dorris. The publication of the Guardian article was the “first time I heard or saw anything,” he said in a phone interview.

Over the years, Ms. Dorris held on to traces of that weekend: ticket stubs, photographs of her with Mr. Trump. She encountered Mr. Trump a few times, once at Mar-a-Lago, but moved on with her life, taking small acting roles, working in marketing and rearing twin daughters.

In 2016, other women began to publicly tell stories about Mr. Trump, some of them similar to hers. The disclosure of the “Access Hollywood” tape, which captured Mr. Trump making crude remarks about sexually assaulting women, provoked widespread outrage, and recognition among Ms. Dorris and the friends in whom she had confided.

But she stayed silent then, she said, in part out of fear that her daughters could face a backlash, and because her husband was reluctant.

After more than a year of speaking privately with The Guardian, Ms. Dorris said, she decided to share her account. She is in the process of getting divorced, making her husband’s reservations less of a factor. She hopes to feel relief in going public. A registered independent who once served as a campaign volunteer for Jeb Bush, the Republican former Florida governor, she said she wanted to speak out about Mr. Trump’s character.

“It’s the person, not the party,” she said. “This man should not be the president.”

Kitty Bennett and Jack Begg contributed research.