As the country grapples with a national reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men, three women who accused the most high-profile man in America 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 Monday on NBC's “Megyn Kelly Today” show.
During the television appearance and a news conference, Holvey sat alongside Jessica Leeds, a New York woman who said Trump groped her on a plane, and Rachel Crooks, who said he kissed her on the lips at Trump Tower, to renew their allegations against the president.
The women also called for Congress to investigate these allegations amid the dramatic shift happening nationwide in response to charges of sexual misconduct against men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. Claims have erupted across industry after industry, against lawmakers and movie stars alike, as 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 the “Access Hollywood” recording last year capturing Trump boasting about grabbing women by the genitals.
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.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump's press secretary, repeated that sentiment later Monday afternoon, telling reporters the president denied all the charges against him. She also said “these allegations have been answered through” the election last year.
“The American people knew this and voted for the president and we feel like we're ready to move forward,” Sanders said of the accusations. She added: “The president has firsthand knowledge on what he did and didn't do.”
The women who spoke out Monday recounted their allegations and said they felt threatened and disgusted by their encounters with the future president.
“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.”
The news conference was organized by Brave New Films, a nonprofit group launched by Robert Greenwald, an Emmy Award-winning producer, with the goal of promoting activism around progressive causes through short low-budget documentaries. The group has a budget of about $2.6 million, according to Jim Miller, its executive director.
The company, which aims for mass free distribution via YouTube and other social networks, has produced videos about gun control and mass incarceration. In November, it posted a video about the women accusing Trump, weaving together clips of them retelling their stories. That video, along with the news conference, was funded by donations of between $5 and $50 that came in response to social media and email solicitations, the group said.
Greenwald said after the video was launched, his group decided to contact the women, some of whom hesitated when they received an email about it.
“I didn’t want to go through it all again,” Holvey said in an interview after the news conference, recalling the backlash a year ago and the feeling that she hadn’t been heard. But the idea of getting together with other women who had similar experiences interested her.
“As a group there might be more of an impact,” she said. And she was also noticing a change in her Facebook feed in the #MeToo era, seeing people asking: “What about Trump?”
Some women contacted by Brave New Films were too fearful of joining the news conference, Greenwald said. The three who did gather met at a dinner Sunday night for the first time.
Beyond pushing for renewed attention to their claims, it was unclear what the women hoped would be the next step after the news conference. Greenwald said that answer would come later, saying for now that he believes “we have an opportunity.”
Leeds said at the news conference Monday 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.”
The women spoke Monday as a wave of allegations of sexual assault and harassment by men have swept across the country in recent weeks, stretching into fields including politics, entertainment, the media, the courts and the finance industry.
Numerous high-profile men have been fired or suspended, 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 mounting allegations.
At least four senators have called on Trump to resign over the allegations. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told CNN on Monday that Trump should step down over what she called “credible” allegations, echoing comments made by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) saying that Trump should resign or consider doing so.
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. Moore has denied the allegations.
For Trump's accusers, they say 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 about Trump. “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.”
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.”
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.
In addition to denying the accusations against him, Trump has vowed to sue his accusers and produce “substantial evidence” he said would disprove their claims. So far, Trump has not followed through on either promise.
The only lawsuit to emerge from the allegations against Trump came from one of his accusers, Summer Zervos, who 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 are seeking to have it dismissed, saying Trump was expressing a political opinion and that a sitting U.S. president cannot be sued in state court.
Sellers reported from New York. This story has been updated.