Spotlight back on Trump harassment accusations

Sexual harassment allegations against President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE were thrust back into the spotlight Monday after three of his accusers banded together for a media tour.

Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks recounted alleged harassment by Trump, stories they first shared during the 2016 presidential campaign, and demanded that Congress open an investigation.

“I ask that Congress put aside their party affiliations and investigate Mr. Trump’s history of sexual misconduct,” Crooks said at a joint news conference.

She said Trump “has escaped his past unscathed but over a dozen women have come forward about his sexual misconduct, and we have the video proof of him promoting such behavior,” referring to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump can be heard boasting about groping women.

Hours later, the Democratic Women’s Working Group (DWWG) announced that 56 female lawmakers were officially requesting the House Oversight Committee probe the allegations against Trump.

The White House vehemently reiterated its denials, accusing the women of having political motives and arguing the matter was settled during the election.

“The president has denied any of these allegations,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “And again, the American people knew this and voted for the president and we feel like we are ready to move forward.”

Sanders said there are eyewitness accounts that dispute the women’s claims, and after her daily briefing, the White House circulated two news clippings to back her up.

In one story, a British man denied Leeds’s accusation that Trump groped and kissed her during a commercial flight in the 1980s. The October 2016 interview was arranged by the Trump campaign.  

In another story from 2016, the winner of the 2006 Miss Teen USA pageant said that Trump never came backstage to ogle contestants, as Holvey alleged he did during the standard Miss USA pageant that year.

The White House did not provide an eyewitness to rebut Crooks, who accused the president of forcibly kissing her 12 years ago at Trump Tower, where she worked as a young receptionist.

In their letter to Oversight Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyOvernight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand GOP lawmakers: Obama admin ‘hastily’ wrote lead ammunition ban MORE (R-S.C.) and ranking member Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsOvernight Cybersecurity: Lawyer charged in Mueller probe pleads guilty to lying | Sessions launches cyber task force | White House tallies economic impact of cyber crime Oversight Dems urge Equifax to extend protections for breach victims Top Oversight Dem pushes for White House opioid briefing MORE (D-Md.), the DWWG wrote that "The American people deserve a full inquiry into the truth of these allegations."

“We cannot ignore the multitude of women who have come forward with accusations against Mr. Trump,” the letter reads. “With that said, the President should be allowed to present evidence in his own defense.”

Sixteen women have publicly accused the president of sexual harassment or misconduct.

The accusers’ stories were eventually pushed out of the news during the frantic final days of the 2016 campaign.

But now, the women are hoping they have a better chance of holding Trump to account.

They are speaking up following movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s downfall, which triggered a cultural reckoning over sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men in entertainment, media, business and politics.

During an appearance on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today,” Holvey described the pain she felt after Trump’s election last year.

“We are private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there, to try to show America who this man is, and especially how he views women, for them to say ‘Meh, we don’t care,’ it hurt,” Holvey said.

“Now it’s just like, alright, let’s try round two. The environment is different, let’s try again.”

In a sign of how much the ground has shifted, Trump’s own United Nations
ambassador, Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyHaley slams Palestinian president on peace process at the UN: 'We will not chase after you' Washington puts Ethiopia's human rights abusers on notice Palestinian diplomat: Trump ‘disqualified America’ from being sole broker in Middle East peace deal MORE, said Sunday the women who accused the president of groping or kissing them without their consent “should be heard.”

Haley’s comments on CBS’s “Face the Nation” were a surprising break from the White House’s official stance that all of Trump’s accusers are lying.

Sanders insisted Haley did not contradict the president, saying that Trump “thinks it’s a good thing that women are coming forward, but he also feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course.”

The landscape has rapidly changed on Capitol Hill, too, where three lawmakers resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct over the course of one week.

Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandAmerican women will decide who wins and loses in 2018 elections Dems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Calls mount from Dems to give platform to Trump accusers  MORE (D-N.Y.) on Monday joined several of her Senate colleagues who are calling on Trump to resign from office.

“These allegations are credible; they are numerous,” Gillibrand told CNN. “I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”

The New York senator, who is seen as a possible Trump challenger in 2020, said Congress should investigate Trump if he refuses to step down.

The renewed focus on harassment allegations could become a significant political problem for Trump, who is already grappling with the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference, as well as sagging approval ratings.

Trump’s accusers are speaking out after he went all-in for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is facing accusations he initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and courted other teenagers while he was in his 30s.

Trump’s accusers voiced disgust that the president is backing Moore, who has denied the allegations.

“It’s really horrifying and it’s confusing,” Leeds said at the press conference. “You would think that the good people of Alabama could see through this, but we’ve gotten so polarized with the politics they want to keep a Republican seat even though it’s a pedophile.”

There are potential legal pitfalls for Trump, too.

A state court judge in New York is considering whether to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought against Trump by a former contestant on “The Apprentice” who says Trump kissed her and groped her breasts without her consent.

If the lawsuit is not thrown out, Trump could be compelled to testify under oath about the allegations against him.

—Updated at 9:19 p.m.