As the country grapples with a national reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill, three women who accused the most high-profile man in the country again questioned Monday why their claims did nothing to stop him from winning the presidency.
It was “heartbreaking” for women to go public with their claims against President Trump last year, only to see him ascend to the Oval Office, said Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant who in October 2016 said Trump inappropriately inspected pageant participants.
“I put myself out there for the entire world, and nobody cared,” Holvey said on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” show, appearing for an hour alongside Jessica Leeds, a New York woman who said Trump groped her on a plane, and Rachel Crooks, who said Trump kissed her on the lips after she introduced herself to him at Trump Tower.
The women also called for Congress to investigate the allegations against Trump, highlighting the dramatic shift happening nationwide in response to charges of sexual misconduct. Claims have erupted across industry after industry, against lawmakers and movie stars alike, while the country has shown a sudden, newfound willingness to take such accusations seriously.
Trump has denied all of the allegations against him, which were made public after The Washington Post published an “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump boasting about grabbing women by the genitals in October 2016. The White House’s position is that Trump’s accusers are lying and that the issue was settled when he was elected president after the stories emerged.
“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 White House said in a statement Monday. “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.”
Speaking to Megyn Kelly on Monday in their first joint interview, the women recounted their allegations against Trump, describing how they felt threatened and disgusted by their encounters with him.
“I was shocked,” Crooks told Kelly after describing Trump kissing her at Trump Tower. “Devastated. It happened so fast … I wish I would’ve been courageous enough to say, ‘What’s going on and you need to stop this.'”
Crooks said she felt at the time that she had no way to respond to the situation out of fear that if she reported it to her bosses — who did business with Trump’s organization — she might lose her job. “I wish I had been stronger,” she said. Crooks said she came forward after reading an account from another woman accusing Trump of misconduct, saying that this made her feel a sense of relief knowing that “it wasn’t just me.”
When the women were read the White House’s statement Monday describing their claims as false, Crooks called it “laughable.”
At a news conference with the other two women later Monday morning, Crooks called for Congress to investigate the allegations of sexual misconduct against the president.
Leeds said that none of the women were speaking publicly for fame, but instead were doing it because they felt it was the right thing to do.
“None of us want this attention,” Leeds said at the news conference. “None of us are comfortable with it … But this is important, so when asked, we speak out.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 11, 2017
The three women made their public appearances amid a wave of allegations of sexual assault and harassment by men, charges that have swept across the country in recent weeks and stretched into fields including politics, entertainment, the media, the courts and the finance industry.
Numerous high-profile men have been fired or suspended from their jobs, including Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and broadcaster Charlie Rose, while others have announced plans to step down, including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), both of whom said last week that they would leave Congress over the mounting allegations.
There are exceptions. Trump has endorsed Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama’s closely-fought Senate election, even after multiple women came forward to say that Moore made advances toward them when they were teens and he was in his 30s. One of the accusers said she was 14 at the time.
For Trump’s accusers, it appears Moore is following the script Trump used a year ago in his own election.
“He was able to just deny what we said, and that got him elected just fine,” Crooks said Monday at the news conference. “It’s like he’s passing the torch for Roy to do the same.”
Holvey suggested it made sense for Trump’s accusers to speak to the public again given the way the country’s atmosphere — and response to alleged sexual misconduct — has shifted over the last year.
“Let’s try round two,” she said. “The environment’s different, let’s try again.”
— Megyn Kelly TODAY (@MegynTODAY) December 11, 2017
A day before the women spoke, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that women who have accused Trump “should be heard.” Haley’s comments were a sharp break from the White House’s position, and they were particularly notable coming from one of the most high-profile women serving in Trump’s administration.
“They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” Haley said when asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” about the allegations other women have made against Trump. “And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
The #MeToo movement has drawn renewed attention to the accusations against Trump, which emerged in the final weeks of the presidential campaign last year. When asked in October whether the White House’s position was that all of the women are lying, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, told reporters: “Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning, and the president has spoken on it.”
For women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct last year, watching other men felled by allegations has left them wondering why their claims did not have the same impact during the presidential campaign.
Trump has denied the allegations against him, vowing to sue his accusers and produce “substantial evidence” he said would disprove their claims. So far, he has not followed through on either promise.
One lawsuit has emerged from the allegations made against Trump: One of his accusers, Summer Zervos, sued him in New York for defamation over Trump’s repeated comments that all of the women were liars.
Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice,” said Trump kissed and groped her during a 2007 encounter at the Beverly Hills Hotel. In response, Trump said: “False stories. All made up. Lies. Lies. No witnesses. No nothing. All big lies.”
Trump’s attorneys have decried Zervos’s lawsuit, calling it “politically motivated” and based on allegations of something “that never occurred.” They have sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that he was expressing a political opinion and saying a sitting U.S. president cannot be sued in state court.
This story has been updated.