After a video surfaced last week showing Donald Trump boasting in 2005 how he would kiss and grope women without consent, the GOP nominee insisted in Sunday’s presidential debate that it was just “locker room talk” and, pressed repeatedly by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, finally said that he had never actually taken the action he described.
But on Wednesday evening, the New York Times published a report citing two women who described how the billionaire businessman had allegedly previously touched them inappropriately.
Jessica Leeds, 74, affirmed to NPR on Wednesday night the account in the Times that more than three decades ago the now-Republican presidential nominee groped her on an airplane as she sat next to him:
“About 45 minutes after takeoff, she recalled, Mr. Trump lifted the armrest and began to touch her.
“According to Ms. Leeds, Mr. Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.
” ‘He was like an octopus,’ she said. ‘His hands were everywhere.’
“She fled to the back of the plane. ‘It was an assault,’ she said.”
Leeds submitted her account first in a letter to the editor. She also recounted her story to the Times on video.
Rachel Crooks described an incident in 2005 — the same year the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape was recorded — when she was a 22-year-old receptionist working in Trump Tower and encountered him in an elevator:
“Aware that her company did business with Mr. Trump, she turned and introduced herself. They shook hands, but Mr. Trump would not let go, she said. Instead, he began kissing her cheeks. Then, she said, he ‘kissed me directly on the mouth.’
“It didn’t feel like an accident, she said. It felt like a violation.
” ‘It was so inappropriate,’ Ms. Crooks recalled in an interview. ‘I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.’ ”
Both women say they came forward after hearing Trump deny at the debate he had ever followed through on the vulgar actions he described in detail in the tape. Both had also told family members and friends after the assaults occurred.
The Times report said Trump threatened to sue the newspaper over the story and on Wednesday night he and his legal advisers moved towards legal action. A spokesperson for the Times tells NPR in a statement, “Prior to publication, we did hear from representatives for Donald Trump demanding that The Times refrain from publishing and accusing our reporter of dishonest journalism. We responded by publishing our story.”
In the 2005 Access Hollywood recording, Trump said, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“Grab them by the p****. You can do anything,” he continued, using vulgar slang for the female anatomy.
Trump denied the women’s accusations to the Times as he threatened to sue. “You are a disgusting human being,” he told Times reporter Megan Twohey.
Trump’s campaign put out a statement Wednesday evening from senior communications adviser Jason Miller after the story published. Miller again denied the accusations and claiming the paper was trying to help his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton:
“This entire article is fiction, and for the New York Times to launch a completely false, coordinated character assassination against Mr. Trump on a topic like this is dangerous. To reach back decades in an attempt to smear Mr. Trump trivializes sexual assault, and it sets a new low for where the media is willing to go in its efforts to determine this election.
“It is absurd to think that one of the most recognizable business leaders on the planet with a strong record of empowering women in his companies would do the things alleged in this story, and for this to only become public decades later in the final month of a campaign for president should say it all.”
Both women in the Times story said they were backing Clinton’s presidential campaign, and Crooks said she had donated less than $200 to both Clinton and President Obama’s campaigns.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign responded to the allegations on Wednesday night. “This disturbing story sadly fits everything we know about the way Donald Trump has treated women. These reports suggest that he lied on the debate stage and that the disgusting behavior he bragged about in the tape are more than just words,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement.
Another BuzzFeed report out Wednesday described how when Trump owned the Miss Teen USA pageant he would walk into the dressing room when contestants, some as young as 15, while they were changing and told them, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”
The latest accusations come as many Republican officials have abandoned Trump’s campaign less than a month before Election Day. The Republican National Committee reiterated on Monday that they were still behind their nominee, but House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would no longer be defending or appearing with Trump.
Trump has also tried to gain leverage with accusations toward his opponent’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. Ahead of Sunday’s debate, he appeared with three women who had accused the former president of sexual assault or rape. And according to another Bloomberg News report on Wednesday night, he intends to double down on that strategy.
“This has nothing to do with consensual sexual affairs and infidelities. This is Bill. We’re going to turn him into Bill Cosby. He’s a violent sexual predator who physically abuses women who he assaults. And she takes the lead on the intimidation of the victims,” Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon told staffers, according to Bloomberg.