Three women who’ve accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment and assault held a press conference in New York on Monday morning to call for a congressional investigation into the president’s alleged history of sexual misconduct.
“In an objective setting, without question, a person with this record would have entered the graveyard of political aspirations, never to return,” said Rachel Crooks, who has accused Trump of grabbing and kissing her without her consent in an elevator in 2005. “Yet here we are with that man as president.”
None of the allegations presented on Monday are new. Crooks and Jessica Leeds, who joined her at the press conference, made their stories public in a New York Times piece published in October 2016, a few days after the leak of an Access Hollywood recording that included Trump bragging about groping and kissing unsuspecting women. At the press conference, Leeds said that after being seated next to Trump on an airplane and enduring his unwanted groping both over and under her clothes, “that was the last time I wore a skirt traveling.” The third accuser, former Miss USA contestant Samantha Holvey, also spoke out before the 2016 election, accusing then–pageant owner Trump of meandering backstage while the contestants were getting dressed and inspecting each woman before they went onstage. Trump bragged about "inspecting" the pageants in an appearance on the Howard Stern Show in 2005.
Now, the women said, they hope the country is more ready than it was last fall to believe their accounts and force Trump to answer for his alleged crimes. In recent months, since bombshell reports of Harvey Weinstein’s decades of sexual abuse appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker, dozens of men in entertainment, politics, media, law, and the restaurant industry have been exposed as serial harassers. Many observers, including me, have wondered whether the allegations against Trump would have been treated differently if they had been revealed during this cultural moment of increased scrutiny of sexual violence. “The Weinstein story hit, and it was like an explosion in a shingle factory: Things were flying all over the place,” Leeds said on Monday. “And it became apparent that in some areas, the accusations of sexual aggression were being taken seriously and people were being held accountable. Except for our president.”
The three women also appeared Monday morning on the NBC talk show of Megyn Kelly, who has likewise made headlines for accusing a powerful man—in her case, former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes—of sexual misconduct. In the interview, Holvey recalled her shock at Trump’s election win despite several public accusations of sexual harassment and assault. Seeing 53 percent of white women vote for Trump “hurt the most,” Holvey said. “We’re private citizens, and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is, and especially how he views women, and for them to say ‘meh, we don’t care’—it was, it hurt,” she continued. “And so, you know, now it’s just like, ‘Alright, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.’”
The White House addressed the Kelly segment with a statement, calling the claims by all three women “false.” “The American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the statement read, imputing the accusers with “political motives.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently affirmed that the Trump administration has “been clear” on the fact that all of Trump’s accusers are lying “from the beginning.”
More than 20 women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault, many of which are far more severe than the alleged misdeeds that were leveled against Sen. Al Franken, who was pressured to resign his Senate seat last week, before an ethics inquiry he requested could even begin. At Monday’s press conference, Crooks said that if Republicans in the Senate were willing to investigate Franken after several women said he forced kisses on them or groped them during photo-ops, “it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump.”
But when reporters asked the accusers what they hoped might come of a congressional ethics probe, none of the three women had an answer. Crooks and Holvey both said Trump should resign his office, then admitted that the chances of him doing so were nearly zero. None expressed interest in joining the lawsuit of Summer Zervos, who is suing the president for defamation for calling her and her fellow Trump accusers “liars.” The best outcomes the women could come up with were vague notions of shifting attitudes about sexual assault and an indictment of Trump in the ”court of public opinion,“ in Crooks‘ parlance. But even though Trump was elected more than a year ago in a culture that discussed sexual assault somewhat differently, the Republican Party—and Republican voters—have continued to support the Senate candidate Roy Moore amid mounting evidence that he made a habit of preying on teenage girls in his 30s. Public conversations about men who abuse their power to demean women have changed since Crooks, Leeds, and Holvey first told America about their encounters with Trump. The priorities of the party that got him elected have not.