Kellyanne Conway says that she was grabbed and shaken by a woman while out with her teenage daughter in a Maryland restaurant late last year.
In an interview with CNN, the White House counselor to President Donald Trump talked about the alleged assault for the first time publicly. She recounted how the woman, who was later identified by authorities as a 63-year-old Maryland resident, approached her “screaming her head off” at Uncle Julio’s, a Mexican restaurant in the DC suburb of Bethesda, as Conway’s middle school-aged daughter looked on.
“Somebody was grabbing me from behind, grabbing my arms, and was shaking me to the point where I felt maybe somebody was hugging me,” Conway said in the interview for an upcoming story for CNN’s series, “Badass Women of Washington.”
“She was out of control. I don’t even know how to explain her to you. She was just, her whole face was terror and anger. She was right here, and my daughter was right there. She ought to pay for that,” she said.
Conway said she called 911, though the woman had left before local police arrived. After an investigation, Mary Elizabeth Inabinett was charged in November with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct. A trial is set for March in Maryland state court.
Inabinett’s lawyer, William Alden McDaniel Jr., disputed Conway’s story and the assault allegations, and said his client would plead not guilty in court next month.
“Ms. Inabinett saw Kellyanne Conway, a public figure, in a public place, and exercised her First Amendment right to express her personal opinions. She did not assault Ms. Conway. The facts at trial will show this to be true, and show Ms. Conway’s account to be false,” McDaniel said in a statement.
The alleged assault, which was detailed in charging documents obtained by CNN, came in the days following the highly polarized confirmation hearing for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was eventually approved by the Senate for a seat on the Supreme Court despite testimony from a woman, Christine Blasey Ford, who said she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when the two were in high school. It’s unclear whether Inabinett’s alleged actions were connected to the Kavanaugh nomination fight.
According to the narrative in the charging document, Conway told police the shaking lasted a few seconds “but the suspect continued to yell and gesture at her for approximately 8-10 minutes before she was escorted from the restaurant.”
“The suspect was yelling ‘shame on you’ and other comments believed to be about Conway’s political views,” a police corporal wrote in a charging document based on an interview with the restaurant’s manager, who told police Conway and Inabinett were separated when she first saw them during the incident.
Conway’s daughter was able to take a short video of the encounter, which police later used to match against a photo of Inabinett they had pulled from state vehicle records after getting her name from a restaurant receipt.
It’s unclear whether the video shows any physical contact between Conway and Inabinett, which Maryland state law does not require for an assault charge.
Conway also positively identified Inabinett in a visit to the Bethesda police station in November, according to the document.
Conway said she told the President about the incident “long after” it happened.
“What he always says, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK? Is your daughter OK? Are the other girls OK?’ ” Conway described the President as saying to her.
Conway, one of Trump’s top television surrogates, said the episode was just the latest example of members of the Trump administration being harassed because of their work for the President.
In June, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was kicked out of a restaurant in Virginia by its owner. Days before that, protesters had booed and shouted at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she dined at a Mexican restaurant in Washington. Those incidents followed days of mounting headlines about the Trump administration’s immigration policy that resulted in family separations at the southern US border.
“The idea that we should be treated differently because of anything, of anything, because of where we work or what we believe or what we’re trying to do on behalf of this great nation, that’s complete nonsense,” Conway said.
After the Sanders incident, Trump insulted the Virginia restaurant for being “dirty on the outside” and “dirty on the inside.”
In a New Year’s tweet, Trump said 2019 “will be fantastic year for those not suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome,” adding, “just calm down and enjoy the ride, great things are happening for our country.”
Trump routinely demonizes opponents and the press, which his detractors say has led to incidents of harassment and violence.
After a days-long manhunt last year, authorities arrested a Florida man who is accused of mailing package bombs to prominent Democrats, CNN and critics of Trump – an act that the Justice Department called domestic terror.
Pressed about the President’s own language potentially fueling acts of right-wing harassment, Conway defended her boss and alluded to the intense focus on the words coming out of the White House.
“You violated my challenge, which is to try to form a sentence, let alone a paragraph, and not mention Donald Trump. Nobody seems capable of doing it. It seems like it’s a physiological impediment for the world,” Conway said.
“What’s necessary is for people to understand – in front of everybody but especially in front of 13- and 14-year-old girls – that you need to control your temper, control yourself. You need to get over the damn 2016 election and do that because chances are – the big chances and I believe – that this man will be re-elected,” she said. “I don’t want it to become a thing. I just want it to become a teachable moment for everyone that this all has consequences.”
CNN’s Bridget Nolan contributed to this report.