A group of women who have accused Donald Trump of sexually inappropriate behavior on Monday demanded that Congress open an investigation.
The women, Samantha Holvey, Rachel Crooks and Jessica Leeds, first came forward during the 2016 presidential election. Crooks and Leeds have accused Trump of unwanted kissing and groping. Holvey says Trump barged into a Miss USA dressing room while he was a part owner of the beauty pageant.
More than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual assault and several more have accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior. Trump has denied all such claims and the White House has said all women making allegations against the president are lying.
Holvey, Crooks and Leeds are sharing their stories again in the hope that under the banner of the #MeToo movement, they will have a greater impact.
“Let’s try round two,” Holvey said on Monday, appearing on NBC’s Today show with Megyn Kelly. “The environment’s different, let’s try again.”
Hours later, at a press conference at the Lexington Hotel in New York, Holvey said lawmakers should extend the same scrutiny to Trump they did to Al Franken, the Minnesota senator who faced an ethics investigation before he resigned his seat over claims of groping and unwanted kissing.
“I think it’s only fair that [Trump] be investigated as well,” Holvey said.
“The investigation by Congress is probably the only thing we can ask for,” said Crooks.
One prominent Democrat, the New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, called on Trump to step down.
“President Trump should resign,” Gillibrand said on CNN. “These allegations are credible, they are numerous. I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking
Gillibrand, who’s call for Franken to resign set that process in motion, said if Trump refused to “immediately” resign, Congress should investigate and “hold him accountable”.
Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was asked at the press briefing on Monday afternoon about the accusers’ decision to come forward again. The allegations dated from “long before [Trump] was elected president”, Sanders said, adding: “The people of this country, in a decisive election, supported President Trump.”
Trump actually won the presidency in the electoral college, thanks to razor-thin margins in battleground states. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million ballots.
“The president has addressed these accusations directly and denied all of these allegations,” Sanders added.
The press secretary was unable to provide any specific evidence to discredit the allegations, relying instead on Trump’s denials and expressing a desire to move onto other topics.
“The president has first-hand knowledge on what he did or didn’t do,” she said.
Crooks, Holvey and Leeds – who claims Trump “jumped” on her and began to paw her while the two were seated next to each other on a plane – are the first accusers to publicly renew their claims amid a new, national reckoning with sexual assault and harassment.
Another woman who did not make an allegation before the election has recently come forward: Juliet Huddy, a former Fox News host who claims Trump attempted to kiss her in the Trump Tower elevator after a business lunch.
“Now I have matured, I think I would say, ‘Woah, no,’ but at the time I was younger and I was a little shocked,” Huddy told compoundmedia.com. “I thought maybe he didn’t mean to do it, but I was kind of making excuses.”
On Sunday, Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, told CBS Trump’s accusers “should be heard”.
“I know that he was elected,” she said. “But, you know, women should always feel comfortable coming forward. And we should all be willing to listen to them.”
Asked on Monday if she agreed with Haley’s comments, Sanders again responded by pointing to the outcome of the election: “The American people knew this and voted for him.”
Sanders also declined to say if defending her boss against allegations of sexual misconduct had been difficult. “I’m here to speak on behalf of the president,” she said.
Accusations of sexual assault and harassment have jeopardized the careers of many lawmakers. Two members of the House of Representatives, Republican Trent Franks and long-serving Democrat John Conyers, have resigned or retired. A third, the Republican Blake Farenthold, has acknowledged he has faced several sexual harassment claims.
In Alabama, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore faces claims he molested a 14-year-old girl and pursued relationships with teenagers while he was in his 30s. Should he win Tuesday’s election, party leaders will face the choice of whether or not to seat him.
As Trump’s accusers were appearing on the Today show, the White House provided a statement to NBC.
“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the statement read.
“The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”
Contrary to the statement, many of Trump’s accusers have not been publicly contradicted by eyewitnesses and many have been corroborated by eyewitnesses and other contemporary evidence.
“I’m just hoping it continues forward and it grows,” said Leeds of the #MeToo movement. “I am hoping this will produce enough pressure on Congress to address it more than just for their own members, but address it in the presidency.
“None of us want this attention,” she added. “None of us are comfortable with it.”
Watching Trump win in spite of their allegations was heartbreaking, Holvey said on NBC.
“We’re private citizens,” she said. “And for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and especially how he views women – for them to say, ‘Meh, we don’t care,’ it hurt.”