Hours before the presidential debate in St. Louis, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump held a news conference with four women who have accused the Clintons of inappropriate behavior. (Facebook/Donald J. Trump)

ST. LOUIS — Donald Trump held a news conference Sunday night with several women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual improprieties, ahead of a crucial second presidential debate against Hillary Clinton that comes amid a cascade of criticism for lewd remarks he made about touching women against their will.

“Thank you very much for coming. These four very courageous women have asked to be here and it was our honor to help them. And I think they’re each going to make just an individual, short statement. And then will do a little meeting, and we will see you at the debate,” Trump said at the beginning of the news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis.

Sitting at a table with Trump were Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey, all of whom have accused Bill Clinton of sexual improprieties. Also seated at the table was Kathy Shelton, a victim of child sexual assault whose alleged rapist Hillary Clinton defended as his court-appointed attorney decades ago.

“Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison,” Broaddrick told a small group of reporters who had been invited to attend the news conference.

Broaddrick has made such statements before, but no criminal case has been litigated and the Clintons deny the accusations.

A video surfaced Friday of Trump making lewd comments in which he said that his celebrity status allowed him to touch women against their will. He and his campaign have been under intense scrutiny in the days since, with a cascade of high-profile Republicans withdrawing their support as a result.

“Mr. Trump, does your star power allow you to touch women without their consent?” a reporter asked Trump before the news conference started. Trump ignored the question.

“I’m here to support Mr. Trump because he’s going to make America great again. I think everybody else should vote for him,” Jones said. “I think they should all look at the fact that he’s a good person, he’s not what other people have been saying he’s being, like Hillary. So think about that.”

Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, is married to George Conway, an attorney who worked on Jones's 1997 sexual harassment suit against Bill Clinton. Trump in 1998 attacked Jones during an interview with CNBC and praised the then-president's stewardship of the economy. “Paula Jones is a loser, but the fact is that she may be responsible for bringing down a president indirectly,” Trump said.

Shelton gave a particularly emotional testimonial, pausing at one moment as Trump encouraged her.

“At 12 years old Hillary put me through something that you would never put a 12-year-old through,” Shelton said. “And she says she’s for women and children and she was asked last year what happened and she said she’s supposed to defend whether they did it or not. Now she’s laughing on tape saying she know they did it.”

The Clinton campaign denounced the news conference, calling it an “act of desperation.”

We’re not surprised to see Donald Trump continue his destructive race to the bottom,” Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement. “Hillary Clinton understands the opportunity in this town hall is to talk to voters on stage and in the audience about the issues that matter to them, and this stunt doesn’t change that. If Donald Trump doesn’t see that, that’s his loss. As always, she’s prepared to handle whatever Donald Trump throws her way.