Amid the mounting number of lawmakers calling on President Trump to resign over multiple claims of sexual harassment and assault, we speak with one of Trump’s accusers. This week, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand became the fifth senator to call for Trump to step down. Three of the 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment held a press conference Monday in New York, demanding that Congress take action. The women shared accounts in which they said Trump groped, fondled and forcibly kissed them. Trump responded in a tweet that they were “false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met.” We speak with Jessica Leeds, who said Trump groped her in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight. She recently retired, after working 30 years as a stockbroker, and is a mother of two and grandmother of eight.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to mounting calls for Donald Trump to resign and the escalating war of words between Trump and his accusers over multiple claims of sexual harassment and assault. This week, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand became the fifth senator to call for Trump to step down. In response, Trump attacked Gillibrand, tweeting, quote, “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump,” end-quote. On Tuesday, Gillibrand fired back, saying Trump’s attack was sexist.
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue. Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday, and neither will the millions of women who have been marching since the Women’s March to stand up against policies they do not agree with.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The USA Today editorial board jumped in with an unusually forceful editorial titled “Will Trump’s lows ever hit rock bottom?” writing, quote, “A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.”
AMY GOODMAN: That, again, a USA Today editorial.
Meanwhile, three of the 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment held a news conference on Monday here in New York, demanding Congress take action. The women shared accounts in which they said Trump groped, fondled and forcibly kissed them. Monday’s press conference was held by Brave New Films, which released the documentary 16 Women and Donald Trump in November. This is an excerpt.
JILL HARTH: He groped me. He absolutely groped me. And he just slipped his hand there, touching my private parts.
TEMPLE TAGGART: He turned to me and embraced me and gave me a kiss on the lips. And I remember being shocked and—because I would have just thought to shake somebody’s hand. But that was his first response with me.
JESSICA LEEDS: It was a real shock when all of the sudden his hands were all over me. But it’s when he started putting his hand up my skirt, and that was it. That was it.
KRISTIN ANDERSON: The person on my right, who, unbeknownst to me at that time, was Donald Trump, put their hand up my skirt. He did touch my vagina through my underwear.
LISA BOYNE: As the women walked across the table, Donald Trump would look up under their skirt and, you know, comment on whether they had underwear or didn’t have underwear. I didn’t want to have to walk across the table. I wanted to get out of there.
KARENA VIRGINIA: Then his hand touched the right inside of my breast. I felt intimidated, and I felt powerless.
MINDY McGILLIVRAY: Melania was standing right next to him when he touched my butt.
JESSICA DRAKE: When we entered the room, he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission. After that, I received another call from either Donald or a male calling on his behalf, offering me $10,000. His actions are a huge testament to his character, that of uncontrollable misogyny, entitlement and being a sexual assault apologist.
SAMANTHA HOLVEY: I’m, you know, sitting there in my robe and having, you know, my makeup and hair done and everything, and he comes walking in. And I was just like, “Oh, my goodness!” Like what is he doing back here? I saw him walk into the dressing room.
TASHA DIXON: He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Other girls were naked. Waltzing in, when we’re naked or half-naked, in a very physically vulnerable position.
SUMMER ZERVOS: And he came to me and started kissing me open-mouthed as he was pulling me towards him. He then grabbed my shoulder, and he began kissing me again very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast. And I said, “Come on, man. Get real.” He repeated my words back to me—”Get reeeeeal”—as he began thrusting his genitals.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s an excerpt from 16 Women and Donald Trump, released by Brave New Films.
Well, in response to these accusations from now 16 women, President Trump tweeted Tuesday, quote, “Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia—so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS!” he tweeted.
Well, for more, we’re joined by one of Trump’s accusers, one of the women who have decided to speak out. We’re joined by Jessica Leeds, who says Donald Trump groped her in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight. Jessica Leeds is recently retired, after working 30 years as a stockbroker. She’s the mother of two, grandmother of eight. And she joins us now in our New York studio.
Jessica Leeds, welcome to Democracy Now!
JESSICA LEEDS: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: And thank you for bravely taking this time to tell your story. So, take us back to that day in 1979.
JESSICA LEEDS: Well, I was traveling for a paper company as a sales rep. There were very few women at that time working on the road. So, it was not unusual for the stewardess to come back and ask me if I wanted to come up to first class. And I was delighted, because the food was better, the seats were more comfortable. So I came up. And the gentleman sitting on the window side and right at the bulkhead—I sat down, and he introduced himself as Donald Trump. At that time, I knew nothing about the Trump Organization, Donald Trump or anything, because I did not work out of New York City. I was based in Connecticut. But I flew in and out of New York.
Well, they served the meal. And after it was cleared, he jumped all over me and started groping me and kissing me and this. And at the time, I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t the guy across from the aisle come to my aid? Why doesn’t the stewardess come back?” You know, but nothing was said. I didn’t say anything. I don’t remember him saying anything.
AMY GOODMAN: How did he first—you had been talking at lunch, while you were eating?
JESSICA LEEDS: A little bit, not a lot, not a lot.
AMY GOODMAN: And he just turned to you?
JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And did what?
JESSICA LEEDS: And started grasping me and pulling me and groping my breasts and trying to kiss me. But it’s when he started to put his hand up my skirt that I managed to wiggle out, because I’m not a small person. And I also managed to remember my purse and went to the back of the airplane. And that was the rest of the flight.
AMY GOODMAN: To where the flight attendants are? You just—
JESSICA LEEDS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —went back to the very back.
JESSICA LEEDS: Right, right, right. And when the plane landed, I made sure that everybody was off the plane before I did, because I didn’t want to run into him again. I did not complain to the airlines. I did not complain to my boss. That wasn’t—that was not done. There were all sorts of silly things that would happen on airplanes, like guys: “You want to join the mile-high club?” I mean, you know, these were things that, at that time, we tolerated.
So, fast-forward. I left and came to New York City. This was like in like '81, ’82. I got a job with the Humane Society of New York. And they were having this fundraising gala at Saks Fifth Avenue. And I'm the new kid on the block, so I’m really, really thrilled to be involved with this. And it was a wonderful New York sparkly night, and I got to meet all these designers, who are now since gone, but Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene and Mary McFadden and all of them.
And up comes—I’m at the table that gave out the table assignments. Up comes Trump with his wife Ivana, who’s very pregnant. And I look at him, and by this time, having worked for the Humane Society, I was aware of who this guy was. The Trump family and everybody—the society scene was very important to the Humane Society, to bring them in. So, I’m remembering him. But I hand him this chip, and he looks at me, and he says, “I remember you. You’re that”—and he used the C-word—”from the airplane.”
AMY GOODMAN: The C-word used to refer to a woman.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, yes. And it was like—it had been a crowded scene around the table. But it was like, all of a sudden, everybody just sort of disappeared. And it’s not that I felt threatened, but I felt very much alone. And he took his chip, and he went—and he went on.
Well, fast-forward to 2015 and '16. When I realized that Trump was actually going to run for president, I started telling everybody who would stand for it—my family, my friends, everybody and anybody, my book club, my neighbors, everybody—I would say, “Listen, let me tell you what kind of a person Donald Trump is. This was my experience with him.” For the most part, they were women. And for the most part, they believed me. There were some that didn't, because it was a long time ago.
But coming up to the debates, it was the second debate, and when Anderson Cooper challenged Trump, “Have you ever groped a woman?” he said, “No, no, no, no. Let’s talk about Syria.” And Anderson didn’t let him off the hook. “Have you ever groped a woman?” “No, no, no.” Well, I’m on my feet yelling at the TV, because, you know, “Yes, you did!” And I didn’t sleep well that night.
And then I got up in the morning, and I picked up my newspaper, and I thought, “I know what I’ll do: I’ll write a letter to the editor.” And I opened up my computer, and my email was flying our the wall. It just was incredible, all my friends saying, “You’ve got to say something now. You’ve got to say something.” So, I composed this letter to the editor. I sent it off to The New York Times, went swimming, came back a couple of hours later, and there was a message from the Times: Would I please call them? And I did. And this woman reporter, Megan Twohey, questioned me. I mean, we talked for over an hour. And then she said, “Can I send a reporter?” This for a letter to the editor?
So, yes, she sends a reporter. He and I talked for about two hours. And he took the names of the people that I had told, like my son, like my nephew, like my friends, like my neighbors. And they called them and said—and asked them, “Did Jessica tell you this story over the past year?” And they all confirmed that that’s what I had done. So then the Times asked, “Well, can we do a video?” And by this time, I’m going, “Wow! This is getting pretty strange.” And they did a video, and that came out Wednesday night. And then, Thursday morning, I open my door and pick up my newspaper, and it’s below the fold, but there’s my picture. And I remember thinking, “Holy [bleep]!”
Now, for about a couple of months—and then there was this interview with Anderson Cooper. And I agreed to that because he was the guy who asked the question. And he treated me, I thought, very, very well. And we had a good conversation.
But then my kids insisted that I leave the city, because there was people hanging around the door. And since I’m too old to know how to do the internet and the Facebook and all that, I have no idea of the hate mail that came in. And we disconnected the phone, and I left town for a couple of days. I went out to a small town in Pennsylvania. And the next day, we go to the post office, and the women in the post office come up to me, and they say, “Thank you. And you’re so brave.” We go to the bank. The tellers at the bank, the customers in the bank come out and say, “Thank you. And you’re so brave.” We go to the farmers’ market. We go to the grocery store. The neighbors in Robin’s neighborhood all come in when they find out that I’m there. And they all say the same thing. They say, “Thank you. And you’re so brave.”
I come back to the city. I go to the Y for swimming and for exercise. And the women started coming up to me, but they also said, “I have a story.” So I began to hear all these stories, some of them really horrific, some of them very minor. “This guy in my office came in, and he [twisting gesture] my breasts.” It’s like, “Holy [bleep]! He did what?” So, it went on for a while, and then things calmed down. And then the anniversary of—well, and Trump got elected. And it was extremely disappointing.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to two clips. This is President Trump speaking before he was president, on the campaign trail, in October 2016. He said all the women who had accused him—you had come out at this point—of sexual misconduct were liars.
DONALD TRUMP: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump in 2016, who said he would sue all of the women, the liars, who had come out and made allegations against him. Now let’s go to comments President Trump made about our guest, Jessica Leeds, on the campaign trail last October.
DONALD TRUMP: The only way they figure they can slow it down is to come up with people that are willing to say, “Oh, I was with Donald Trump in 1980. I was sitting with him on an airplane, and he went after me on the plane.” Yeah, I’m going to go after. Believe me, she would not be my first choice. That I can tell you. Man!
AMY GOODMAN: That was Donald Trump. And you’re laughing, Jessica Leeds.
JESSICA LEEDS: Well, it is so absurd that—for him, beauty is the primary attraction. And he didn’t pick me. I was there. I was available. He was bored. So, I have to be totally realistic, but I’m 75 years old now, and everybody sees a 75-year-old grandmother. But I was OK when I was in my thirties. I did—I was presentable. And the jobs that I had, like the sales job, I got because I was pretty enough.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I’m just thinking about the woman who spoke alongside you, Rachel Crooks, who also just happened to be there.
JESSICA LEEDS: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: She was in the building of her landlord.
JESSICA LEEDS: Right, correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Her landlord was Donald Trump. She worked in that building. And this is Rachel speaking at Monday’s news conference, along with Jessica, who says Trump forcibly kissed her against her will in 2005, when she was headed to work.
RACHEL CROOKS: About 12 years ago, as a young receptionist in Trump Tower, I was forcibly kissed by Mr. Trump during our first introduction. Mr. Trump repeatedly kissed my cheeks, and ultimately my lips, in an encounter that has since impacted my life well beyond the initial occurrence, in feelings of self-doubt and insignificance I had.
Unfortunately, given Mr. Trump’s notoriety and the fact that he was a partner of my employers, not to mention the owner of the building, I felt there was nothing I could do. Given this hostile work environment, my only solution at the time was to simply avoid additional encounters with him.
I do realize that, in the grand scheme of things, there are far worse cases of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault. But make no mistake: There is no acceptable level of such behavior.
That some men think they can use their power, position or notoriety to demean and attack women speaks to their character, not ours, which, believe me, is a tough lesson learned. In my case, I only felt the redemption of knowing it was not my own flaws to blame, when I read the account of Temple Taggart, whose story had so mirrored my own that I finally felt absolved of the guilt that I had somehow projected an image that made me an easy target. Instead, this was serial misconduct and perversion on the part of Mr. Trump.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Rachel Crooks. You were sitting next to her. You had each told your story. And what happened to Rachel—you didn’t know her until now, until—
JESSICA LEEDS: No. Of the 16—and originally it was like 10 or 12, and more have come forward. But as far as I am aware and the input that I’ve gotten, we’ve—none of us have talked to each other. So, the thing that I found, for myself, comforting was the fact that the stories were basically similar.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel ended up quitting and going home.
JESSICA LEEDS: Rachel was so intimidated that she quit her job and went back to Ohio. So, we lost somebody in the city because of the aggression.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re now calling for a congressional investigation?
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain.
JESSICA LEEDS: Well, the problem with the political scene is the fact that Trump really feels like he doesn’t have anybody over him. He doesn’t have—there’s nobody telling him—nobody is the boss of the White House except Trump. It’s up to Congress to haul—to bring him to task for who he is and what he is. I’m hoping the Mueller investigation will do it, but at this point I have to do—have to continue doing what I feel is important about the sexual aggression issues. So, it’s up to—I think it’s up to Congress to step forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Fifty-six women in Congress—
JESSICA LEEDS: Have.
AMY GOODMAN: —five senators, four of them men, one of them Kirsten Gillibrand, who he just verbally attacked, have called for his resignation.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes. Well, that would be something else, too. But he will never, I think—it’s just like he doesn’t remember these things anymore. As I said, he remembered me after a couple of years. And I’m not sure why. But he doesn’t remember, because he’s done it all his life. If some investigating power could go back and check with his high school and college years, I bet the women that he dated then had the same experience.
AMY GOODMAN: And, clearly, this is not just about dating.
JESSICA LEEDS: No, no. This is the label sexual aggression. It really is. And it’s control over something. He just—I love it when he says he appreciates women. But he doesn’t. What he wants is some arm candy.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And you’ve talked about the massive discrepancy between women survivors remembering every single detail of what happened and male abusers completely forgetting.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah. Women remember, in exquisite detail, when it happened, how it happened, where it happened, how they got out of it, how they got home. Most of them talked about throwing their clothes away. Most of them said that they felt responsible for what happened, and they didn’t want to tell anybody, even their parents or their spouses or everything. They remember it, whether they were eight years old or whether they were 30 years old.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you never wore a dress on a plane again?
JESSICA LEEDS: I stopped wearing skirts. I started—pantsuits were the—
AMY GOODMAN: Because he reached up your skirt.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah, yeah. I wasn’t going to—and I cut my hair from being long to short. It was one of those things where you, as—and this is what I object to. You, as the victim, take on the responsibilities to, somehow or another, prevent these situations from happening.
AMY GOODMAN: Rod Rosenstein testified before the House. Luis Gutiérrez was one of the congressmembers questioning him. This was about Robert Mueller. But he, Luis Gutiérrez, said to the deputy attorney general, if a man did this to a woman and described—well, let’s go to that moment with the Chicago congressman questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: When the “him” in question is Donald Trump, there really should be no further discussion, because, as everybody, regardless of their political affiliations or partisanship, can clearly see, we have a man in the presidency who has a very difficult relationship with the truth. In this case, we have women who were made to feel powerless and insignificant, who, at great personal cost and risk, have come forward. And I believe them. I do. … I think, were he on the subway or in a restaurant, would not either or both of these incidents be enough to get him arrested, in your experience as the number two most important law enforcement officer in the United States?
AMY GOODMAN: That was Luis Gutiérrez in a House hearing yesterday. Your final comment?
JESSICA LEEDS: I am amazed. We need more men coming out and saying things like this congressperson. And I’m really hopeful. The problem is, the men that perpetrate this, for them, it’s like scratching an itch. It doesn’t mean anything. And they just don’t comprehend the psychological damage that they’re doing to their victims. And, you know, some of them never recover, and they’re basket cases for the rest of their life. Some of them are well grounded, like Samantha from—
AMY GOODMAN: Samantha Holvey.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah, she’s—
AMY GOODMAN: We had on the show on Tuesday.
JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah, she is absolutely right on, based and doing just fine. But there are a lot of women who have experienced all sorts of—that never recover.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you want President Trump to resign?
JESSICA LEEDS: Resign, be taken out, absolutely.
AMY GOODMAN: Be taken out by the congressmembers who are calling for this congressional investigation?
JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, exactly. I mean, his administration is a mess. We don’t even have an embassy person in South Korea. Please! You know?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to say thank you so much, and we’re going to move on to an international issue next, the issue of Yemen. Jessica Leeds, one of 16 women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. Jessica Leeds and two other women spoke out at a news conference in Manhattan on Monday. You can see Samantha Holvey’s discussion on Democracy Now! on Tuesday. She was Miss North Carolina. She participated in the Miss USA contest, the contest owned by President Trump. She talks about what he did in those pageants. Jessica Leeds has recently retired after working 30 years as a stockbroker—mother of two, grandmother of eight.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Yemen. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone, one of five artists who will soon be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.