PUEBLO, Colo. – Several women levied allegations of sexual assault against Donald Trump on Wednesday in a series of interviews, adding to the already damaging revelations about the Republican presidential nominee’s aggressive sexual comments about women.
Trump’s campaign dismissed the allegations as having no merit or veracity, and it attacked 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 called a “libelous article” and apologize.
“For The New York Times to launch a completely false, co-ordinated 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.”
A story published in The Times said Jessica Leeds, 74, of New York, told the newspaper she encountered Trump on an airline flight three decades ago. Leeds said Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” she told the newspaper. “His hands were everywhere.”
Rachel Crooks, of Ohio, said she met Trump at Trump Tower in 2005. Age 22 at the time, Crooks said Trump kissed her “directly on the mouth” against her will.
Trump denied the accusations, telling the Times, “None of this ever took place.” The letter from his lawyers said unless the paper removed the article from its website and ceased further publication, it would pursue “all available actions and remedies.”
Separately on Wednesday, The Palm Beach Post in Florida reported that Mindy McGillivray, 36, told the newspaper that Trump groped her at his Mar-a-Lago estate 13 years ago. People magazine reporter Natasha Stoynoff also posted a story about a 2005 incident at Mar-a-Lago where, she wrote, Trump “was pushing me against the wall, and forcing his tongue down my throat.” The Trump campaign said there was no “merit or veracity” to either story.
Hillary Clinton’s communication’s director, Jennifer Palmieri, said in a statement the latest run of allegations “sadly fits everything we know about the way Donald Trump has treated women.”
The interviews come just days after the publication of a recording from 2005, on which Trump made a series of vulgar and sexually predatory comments about women. While waiting to make a cameo appearance on a soap opera, he bragged to then-“Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush that his fame allowed him to force himself on women.
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said, adding later: “Grab them by the p—-. You can do anything.”
Trump has apologized for the comments on the recording, but also dismissed them as “locker room talk” and a distraction from the campaign. Asked during Sunday’s presidential debate whether he ever engaged in the sort of conduct he described in 2005, he said: “No. I do not.”
The reports about Trump’s conduct came at the end of a day during which an increasingly confident Clinton made only brief reference to her opponent’s treatment of women — she noted his dismissal of the conversation as “locker room talk” — and did not address the new allegations.
Trying to float above the fray, she warned voters in Colorado and Nevada not to be turned off by the “pure negativity” coming from her opponent.
Clinton’s campaign had signalled earlier in the day she would go even harder on Republicans, but after news of the fresh allegations, Clinton demurred. She continued to make newly prominent and explicit pitches for Democratic congressional candidates in tight races, including Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy and Nevada Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto.
Even as she did so, two GOP senators and two House members who called for Trump to step aside over the weekend climbed back aboard. Their basic case: They’re voting for a Republican next month, and if Trump isn’t leaving then he’s got to be the one.
John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, told the Rapid City Journal he had “reservations about the way (Trump) has conducted his campaign and himself.” However, he said, “I’m certainly not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
Also back on board after calling on Trump to resign: Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Reps. Scott Garrett of New Jersey and Bradley Byrne of Alabama. There still are some three dozen GOP lawmakers who have withdrawn their support or are calling for Trump to step aside.
The focus on Republican congressional candidates is the latest sign the Clinton campaign is moving past a narrow focus on winning the White House, and now is aiming to win big — by delivering the Senate to Democrats, making deep cuts into the Republicans’ majority in the House and, possibly, winning states long considered Republican territory.
“If you’ve got friends in Utah or Arizona, make sure they vote, too,” Clinton told a raucous crowd in Pueblo.
“We are competing everywhere. … I think Americans want to turn out in as big a number as possible” to reject Trump’s message, Clinton said.
She had sympathetic words — serious or not — for Trump supporters who have begun to interrupt her events.
As security escorted one man out in Pueblo, Clinton said, “You have to feel a little sorry for them; they’ve had a really bad couple of weeks.”
Clinton’s new swagger and expanded ambitions came as Trump declared he feels unshackled to launch the sort of hard-edged, personal campaign his most ardent supporters love. Hours before news of the assault allegations broke, Trump kept up his unrelenting denunciations of Clinton at a rally in Florida. It’s not enough for voters to elect him instead of her, he declared — “She has got to go to jail.”
In Florida, he highlighted a new batch of hacked emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account, published by WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group. He asserted that the emails show ever more clearly that the former secretary of state and her family are corrupt.
“It never ends with these people,” he said.
WikiLeaks, which U.S. officials have said has ties to Russian intelligence, released a fourth installment of private correspondence between top Clinton campaign officials on Wednesday. Clinton’s campaign has not confirmed the accuracy of the emails, but Podesta said the FBI is investigating Russia’s possible involvement, raising the extraordinary prospect of a link between Russia and the U.S. presidential election.
The FBI said anew that it is investigating possible Russian hacking involving U.S. politics but made no comment on Podesta.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.