Republicans fear serious damage to party by ‘character assassination’
Abarrage of accusations that Donald Trump groped or inappropriately kissed women rocked the race for the White House on Wednesday, with the Republican nominee angrily denying the reports and his campaign branding them character assassination.
Claims by at least five women in accounts reported by The New York Times, NBC, People Magazine and other outlets came to light after Trump said in Sunday’s presidential debate with his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton that he had never sexually assaulted women.
His denial came as he tried to set his campaign back on track after a video recording from 2005 surfaced last Friday in which the 70-year-old real estate mogul is heard making lewd boasts about how his celebrity means he can g ro p e women with impunity.
With just 27 days until the November 8 election, and national polls in Clinton’s favour, Trump’s free-falling campaign is fuelling Republican worries the controversy may seriously harm the party.
Former businesswoman Jessica Leeds, 74, told The New York Times Trump had groped her on a flight in the early 1980s as they sat next to each other in first class.
He had lifted the armrest and begun grabbing her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt, she said. “It was an assault.”
Rachel Crooks said she had been a 22-year-old receptionist at a real estate company in Trump Tower in 2005 when she met Trump outside a lift in the building one morning.
After she introduced herself, he “kissed me directly on the mouth – it was so inappropriate”, she said.
“None of this ever took place,” Trump angrily told The New York Times, calling the reporter a “disgusting human being”.
Among the accusations, Mindy McGillivray, now 36, alleged Trump had grabbed her at his Florida resort in early 2003, the Palm Beach Post reported on Wednesday.
“It was pretty close to the centre of my butt,” she said of the incident that happened as she was working as a photographer’s assistant at an event.
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 knew of the incidents before the “hot mic” video was released last week.
Former Miss Utah Temple Taggart McDowell told NBC on Wednesday that Trump kissed her on the lips when she was a 21-year-old contestant in his Miss Universe beauty pageant in 1997.
More sordid allegations came from Miss Washington 2013, Cassandra Searles.
Yahoo News reported 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”.
People Magazine published an account on Wednesday by a former staff writer, Natasha Stoynoff, who said Trump had forced himself on her when she interviewed him in 2005.
“I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.”
The Trump campaign fired back, calling The New York Times article a political attack and demanding a retraction. Senior communicators advisor Jason Miller said it was fiction and a “false, coordinated character assassination”.
ABC News reported three senior-level sources as saying Trump was drafting a lawsuit against the newspaper for defamation.