Rachel Crooks and Samantha Holvey had never met. But through a twist of fate, they became players this week at the center of a national political storm over sexual misconduct that has now reached President Trump.
Both women have accused Trump of inappropriate advances earlier in his career, and a liberal film producer brought them together for the first time Sunday evening at a private dinner in Manhattan.
Crooks traveled from Ohio and Holvey from South Carolina to take part in a media blitz arranged by the filmmaker to bring attention to women's accusations against Trump. The White House says all the women are lying, and the president tweeted this week that their allegations — first made public during the presidential campaign last year — were "false accusations and fabricated stories."
But Crooks and Holvey said their memories of Trump remain vivid and unsettling. Crooks, 34, recalled him kissing her repeatedly in a Trump Tower encounter in 2005 when she was 22 years old.
Holvey, 31, remembered her experience as a 2006 Miss USA contestant, horrified when Trump, the pageant owner, barged into the dressing room to inspect the partially clothed women. She was one of several pageant beauties who had publicly complained that Trump treated contestants like his personal property. He talked about his unannounced dressing room inspections on Howard Stern's radio show.
No one had thought to try to forge a sisterhood of Trump accusers until former Hollywood producer Robert Greenwald and his colleague Shira Levine reached out to Crooks, Holvey and other women willing to step forward once again with their stories.
The filmmakers from Brave New Films had created a short video in November from old clips of 16 women making a range of allegations against Trump. When they posted it on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms, it went viral. They decided to contact the women and bring some of them together for a Monday appearance on NBC's "Megyn Kelly Today" and a news conference that attracted international coverage.
The White House condemned the effort as a liberal political ploy, but it gained traction during a week in which allegations of sexual misconduct became a major theme in the Alabama Senate race. Trump's suggestive tweet about New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) further inflamed his critics. Gillibrand said Wednesday that she believed the women's accusations and called on Trump to resign.
Not all of the Trump accusers wanted to participate in the new alliance or in the push for Congress to investigate Trump's behavior. A third accuser showed up to dine with Crooks and Holvey, Greenwald said, but did not want to be identified because of repercussions she said she suffered after she came forward a year ago.
Levine said she now has a core group of six to eight women who want to participate and intends to link them all by email.
The atmosphere has changed, Levine said, since the women first stepped forward, many in outraged response to Trump's lewd comments on the "Access Hollywood" tape and his denial that he had ever engaged in the behavior described on the recording.
"It's a new planet this year," said Holvey in an interview, "and change needs to happen."
The goal of Sunday's dinner, Greenwald said, was to give Crooks, Holvey and the other unidentified accuser "a private moment" before Monday's media whirlwind. Holvey said the women felt an immediate bond.
"I felt very strongly I wanted to support the other women," said Holvey, a former Miss North Carolina. "I'm going to fight with you," she recalled thinking, "and I'm going to fight for you."
Jessica Leeds, 75, whose complaint about Trump's behavior on an airplane dates back decades, did not attend the dinner but appeared with Crooks and Holvey on the "Megyn Kelly Today" show and at the news conference, where another accuser, Lisa Boyne, called in.
"Now I think it's kind of important that we do sort of form a unit," Leeds said.
Four of the women also issued a statement Tuesday, calling Trump's denials "straight out of the Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby playbook."
Melinda McGillivray, who said last year that Trump groped her in 2003 at his Mar-a-Lago resort, could not attend the dinner and got a separate interview with Kelly on Tuesday, in which she asked why Congress has not launched an investigation.
"It's important that we hold this man to the highest standards," McGillivray said on NBC's "Megyn Kelly Today." "If 16 women have come forward, then why hasn't anything been done?"
In an interview with The Post earlier this year, McGillivray said she was initially afraid to make her claims publicly during the presidential campaign. McGillivray also said she received online death threats after speaking out last year.
The White House dismissed McGillivray's allegations against Trump as "a false and absurd claim."
Absent thus far from the group public appearances were a few accusers who aligned with Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, including Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice." Allred, who is representing Zervos in a defamation suit against Trump in New York state Superior Court, declined to comment. A court ruling on Trump's motion to dismiss the case is pending.
The White House also criticized Brave New Films.
"This is nothing more than a publicity stunt by a film studio backed by liberal interest groups intent on lobbing politically motivated attacks against American voters," the White House said in a statement.
Brave New Films has an openly liberal mission "to champion social justice issues by using a model of media, education, and grassroots volunteer involvement," according to its website. The group did a full-length documentary on the conservative industrialists Charles and David Koch, which the Kochs called inaccurate.
Brave New Films has a special IRS nonprofit designation that allows it to engage in politics. Executive director Jim Miller said 492 donors give a total of $5,536 a month to create content. The group also gets foundation grants for specific projects, Miller said, and donations from individuals.
The film, "16 Women and Donald Trump," was a low-budget project, Miller said. After the film's mid-November launch, the nonprofit solicited new funds to use "our platform to share the voices of women that have refused to be intimidated into silence."
Crooks dismissed White House criticism that the women's accusations were a coordinated political ploy.
"The things that happened to us spanned decades, states, all over," Crooks told Kelly. "What could we possibly have, colluded to come up with these tales that all sound so eerily similar?"
Holvey said she has seen suggestions that they were working with Democratic leadership. "It was not organized like that in any way shape or form," she said. "We're independent of that."
Now, the women say they are braced for more backlash.
Holvey passed on to The Post a threatening, obscenity-laced message she received after speaking on Monday. "I would hate for something to happen to you . . ." it read in part.
But she said the new bond among the women makes threats seem more manageable.
Greenwald said he sensed a new resolve among the women. "I'm sure as the days go on the sisterhood will get stronger and more bonded," he said.
Even the shared memories at the Sunday dinner showed that more women may have stories to tell, Levine said.
There were 51 women at each of the pageants that Trump owned for more than two decades, Levine said, and others who might have found his dressing room inspections offensive.
"Can you imagine?" she said. "That is a force."
Karen Tumulty and Julie Tate contributed to this report.