At the beginning of the second presidential debate earlier this week, moderator Anderson Cooper questioned Donald Trump about the hot-mic recording of him bragging about kissing and grabbing women’s genitals without their consent. “Have you ever done those things?” Cooper asked.
“No, I have not,” Trump said, contradicting what he told then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush on the now infamous 2005 tape published by the Washington Post Friday. Over the last 24 hours, a procession of women have come forward saying Trump did do the things he bragged about in 2005 and denied during the debate.
Jessica Leeds told The New York Times that Trump groped her breasts and tried to put his hands up her skirt on an airplane in 1980. Rachel Crooks told the same newspaper that he forced himself on her outside an elevator in 2005. Mindy McGillivray told the Palm Beach Post Trump grabbed her butt at Mar-A-Lago in 2003. People journalist Natasha Stoynoff recalled Trump pushed her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat while she was on assignment from the magazine, writing a story about Trump’s first anniversary with his wife Melania. All four of the women who came forward on Wednesday reported their horror at watching Trump lie during the debate.
The Trump campaign is responding to their allegations with a battery of denials, deflections, legal threats, insults and airplane forensics. Here’s what the candidate and his staffers have said over the past few days.
On Tuesday evening, the Republican candidate lashed out at the female New York Times reporter who questioned him about Leeds’ and Crooks’ accusations. “You are a disgusting human being,” Trump told Megan Twohe.
In a speech Thursday in Florida, the GOP nominee again angrily took aim at the journalists who’ve written stories about his accusers, as well as the publications that ran those stories (“the failing New York Times“), Hillary Clinton (“Honestly, she should be locked up”), and the women who came forward against him. He spoke with particular disdain of former People journalist Natasha Stoynoff, implying that she was not attractive enough to make a pass at. “Look at her,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, Trump’s lawyer dispatched a threatening letter to Times executive editor Dean Baquet demanding a retraction. “Your article is reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se. It is apparent from, among other things, the timing of the article, that it is nothing more than a politically-motivated effort to defeat Mr. Trump’s candidacy,” Marc Kasowitz wrote. “We hereby demand that you immediately cease any further publication of this article, remove it from your website and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology. Failure to do so will leave my client with no option but to pursue all available actions and remedies.”
In his Thursday speech, Trump referenced “the lawsuit we are preparing against” the paper.
Also Thursday, a Times lawyer responded with his own letter, noting, essentially, Bring it on.
Trump adviser AJ Delgado, appearing on MSNBC Wednesday night at the request of the Trump campaign, said the women who had come forward made up their claims. The proof, Delgado said, was in the fact that the women waited to tell their stories.
“These allegations are decades old. If somebody actually did that, Chris, any reasonable woman would have come forward and said something,” Delgado told Chris Hayes. (Delgado is wrong; according to estimates by the Department of Justice, only 344 out of every 1,000 victims ever report their sexual assaults.)
Invoking Bill Clinton
On Tuesday, after the incriminating videotape emerged but before the women came forward to accuse Trump of assaulting them and lying about it, Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon told staffers the campaign would try to minimize the fallout from the leaked video by training the attention on Bill Clinton’s misdeeds.
“We’re going to turn him into Bill Cosby,” Bannon said Tuesday. “He’s a violent sexual predator who physically abuses women who he assaults. And she takes the lead on the intimidation of the victims.” He said women were approaching the campaign with new accusations about the former president and floated the possibility of featuring Bill Clinton’s accusers at Trump rallies around the country.
The “fixed armrests” defense
One of the more confounding denials trotted out in the immediate aftermath of the new torrent of allegations came from Trump campaign spokeswoman Katrina Pierson. The assault described by Leeds to the Times could not have occurred, Pierson told CNN Wednesday, because the planes of that era did not have rotating armrests. (Leeds said Trump raised the armrest between their seats before groping her.)
“This is why this story is particularly ridiculous, to answer your question in further detail,” Pierson told Don Lemon. “We’re talking about the early 1980s, Don. Seriously? Back then you had planes – what, a DC-9, a DC-10, an MD-80, a 707 and maybe an L-1011? But she said specifically that this was to New York. This is important, so we can X-out the DC-10 and the L-1011. Guess what? First-class seats have fixed armrests, so what I can tell you about her story, if she was groped on a plane, it wasn’t by Donald Trump and it certainly wasn’t in first class.”
Lemon said the network would need to have an aerospace expert litigate the issue. On Twitter a few hours later, the aerospace website NYCAviation disputed Pierson’s claim.