Newly published accusations that Donald Trump groped or inappropriately kissed women continued to rock the race for the White House Thursday. In all, five women have come forward in the past week to claim they were assaulted by the Republican presidential candidate, with reports that further damning allegations are still to come.
Trump angrily denied the claims, and his campaign branded them “character assassination,” threatening legal action if they were not retracted.
Accounts by four women were reported by The New York Times, The Palm Beach Post and Yahoo News. They came to light as Trump has been trying to set his campaign back on track after a “hot mic” recording from 2005 surfaced last Friday, in which he is heard making lewd boasts about how his celebrity meant he could grope women with impunity.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy,” he can be heard saying. “I just start kissing them.”
Trump apologized for those comments, but dismissed them as “locker room” banter, and during Sunday’s presidential debate with his rival, Hillary Clinton, asserted that he had never assaulted women.
With just 27 days until the November 8 election, and Democrat Clinton in the driver’s seat with national polls in her favor, the embattled Republican nominee has sought to get back on the offensive, leveling accusations of rape and sexual assault against her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
But a constant stream of allegations of sexual misconduct by Trump has kept his behavior with women in the spotlight.
‘Like an octopus’
Former businesswoman Jessica Leeds, 74, who worked for a paper company at the time, told The New York Times that Trump groped her on a flight in the early 1980s as they sat next to each other in first class.
About 45 minutes after takeoff, Trump lifted the armrest, began grabbing her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt, Leeds said.
“He was like an octopus,” she told the daily. “His hands were everywhere.”
“It was an assault,” she added.
Rachel Crooks said she was a 22-year-old receptionist at a real estate company in Trump Tower in 2005 when she encountered Trump outside an elevator in the building one morning.
She introduced herself and shook his hand, but he would not let go. Trump began kissing her cheeks and then “kissed me directly on the mouth,” she told the Times.
“It was so inappropriate,” Crooks added. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.”
Trump denied the allegations, asserting, “None of this ever took place,” and calling the reporter a “disgusting human being.”
‘I was startled’
Also on Wednesday, the Palm Beach Post published a report on its website in which Mindy McGillivray, now 36, alleged that Trump grabbed her at his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida in early 2003.
“It was pretty close to the center of my butt,” she said of the incident, which happened as she was working as a photographer’s assistant at an event. “I was startled. I jumped.”
None of the women reported the incidents to law enforcement.
The New York Times and Palm Beach Post spoke with friends and family of the women, who corroborated their accounts and said they knew of the incidents before the “hot mic” video was released last week.
On Friday, following the release of the video, CNN reported an incident in which Trump attempted to forcibly kiss a woman on the mouth. Reporter Erin Burnett quoted a friend of hers as saying, “Trump took Tic Tacs, suggested that I take them also. He then leaned in… catching me off guard and kissed me almost on the lips. I was really freaked out.”
Wow. Erin Burnett says Trump popped a tic tac and tried to kiss a friend she knows https://t.co/GsYV2Y1upG
— Sam Stein (@samstein) October 8, 2016
In addition, CBS News published footage Wednesday from an “Entertainment Tonight” Christmas feature in 1992, in which Trump watches a group of young girls going up the escalator in Trump Tower.
“I am going to be dating her in 10 years. Can you believe it?” he is heard saying. Trump was 46 at the time.
The new allegations come after Temple Taggart, a former Miss Utah, told the New York Times in May how Trump kissed her on the lips when he introduced himself to the 21-year-old contestant at the 1997 Miss USA pageant. She said he kissed her again at a later meeting at Trump Tower.
More sordid allegations came from Miss Washington 2013, Cassandra Searles. Yahoo News reported in June that she had called Trump a “misogynist” in a Facebook post, and said in a comment that he had “continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.”
‘Coordinated character assassination’
Trump’s campaign dismissed the allegations as having no merit or veracity, and accused one of the media outlets that published the women’s accounts as acting on a vendetta. In a letter from his attorneys, Trump demanded The New York Times retract what it termed a “libelous article” and apologize.
Lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz said in the letter that the article was “reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel.” He added that it was “nothing more than a politically motivated effort to defeat Mr. Trump’s candidacy.”
“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,” Jason Miller, Trump’s campaign spokesman, said in a separate statement. “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.”
Trump traveled to Florida Wednesday for two rallies, where he ramped up his attacks on the 68-year-old Clinton, calling her a criminal who “has to go to jail” for endangering national security by using a private email account while secretary of state.
He also took aim at Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who have either abandoned or rebuked him in the wake of the hot mic revelations.
But further allegations may yet be uncovered. Political strategist Liz Mair tweeted Thursday that there were two “really bad stories” that had not yet been published.
By the way, the two really, really bad stories I mentioned would soon be dropping still haven't actually dropped.
— Liz Mair (@LizMair) October 13, 2016
Clinton on Wednesday campaigned in Colorado and Nevada, where she ignored questions about the New York Times article shouted by pool reporters.
“America is better than what Donald Trump says and represents,” the former first lady had said earlier in Pueblo, Colorado.
But her campaign issued a statement.
“This disturbing story sadly fits everything we know about the way Donald Trump has treated women,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said.
“These reports suggest that he lied on the debate stage and that the disgusting behavior he bragged about in the tape is more than just words.”