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Meet the Women Who Accuse Trump of Sexual Harassment & Are Calling for Congress to Investigate

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We begin our Democracy Now! special by looking at the growing movement of people calling on President Trump to resign over multiple claims of sexual harassment and assault. The renewed calls come amid the international #MeToo movement, in which women across the world have come forward to accuse a slew of powerful men of sexual harassment, assault and rape. Meanwhile, three of the 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual harassment held a press conference last month in New York, demanding that Congress take action. The women shared accounts in which they said Trump groped, fondled and forcibly kissed them. We speak with two of them: Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant for North Carolina when Trump owned the pageant, and Jessica Leeds, who describes what happened to her when she encountered Donald Trump in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight in 1979.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s Democracy Now! special by looking at the growing movement calling on President Trump to resign over multiple claims of sexual misconduct, harassment and assault against him. The renewed calls come amidst the international #MeToo movement, in which women across the globe have come forward to accuse a slew of powerful men of sexual harassment, assault and rape.

In December, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand became the fifth senator and first female senator to call for President Trump to step down, over 16 claims he harassed, assaulted or engaged in misconduct with women. 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,” he tweeted. Senator Gillibrand fired back, saying President 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.

AMY GOODMAN: The USA Today editorial board jumped in with an unusually forceful editorial headlined “Will Trump’s lows ever hit rock bottom?” The editorial went on: “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,” unquote.

Meanwhile, three of the 16 women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct held a press conference last month in New York, demanding Congress take action. The women shared accounts in which they said Trump groped, fondled, forcibly kissed them or engaged in some kind of misconduct. The press conference was held by Brave New Films, which released the documentary 16 Women and Donald Trump in November.

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 producer Robert Greenwald’s 16 Women and Donald Trump.

In December, Democracy Now!’s Juan González and I sat down with Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant for North Carolina when Trump owned the pageant. I began by asking her about the first time she met Donald Trump.

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: The first time I met Donald Trump, we were in New York City doing a media tour, all 51 of the Miss USA contestants. And we were at Trump Tower. They lined us all up, and so he could meet all of us. And I’m thinking this is going to be a meet and greet, you know, lots of eye contact. That was not the case at all. He walks by, and by every one of us, or at the very least me. He just looked me up and down like I was a piece of meat. There was no “Hi. How are you doing? Are you excited to be here?” None of that. I was just a piece of meat that was his property. And I thought, “Oh, goodness. I hope I never have to deal with him again. I don’t want to be around him.”

And then finals night rolls around. And I’m, you know, in hair and makeup. I’ve got curlers in my hair, nothing but a robe on. I’m just 20 years old. And he comes waltzing in to hair and makeup and is just looking around, not talking to us, asking us how we’re doing. And by the way, you know, Miss USA was not my first pageant. I’ve been—I’ve competed in other pageants. And the directors, no men were ever backstage. So this is not something that happens.

So, I see him walk in to hair and makeup, and he’s looking us all over. And then he waltzed right into the dressing room, where we have two big security guards making sure that nobody but female contestants and chaperones are allowed in there. But he walks right on in.

And to hear him talking about he’s never met any of us—you know, this is what happens every year. It wasn’t just 2006. He bragged about this on Howard Stern. And silly me, I should have been watching Howard Stern, because he bragged about it the year before I competed at Miss USA. So this was a known thing that he did. And so, it’s just amazing to call me a liar, when I’m just verifying his own words.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders responded to the allegations against Trump during Monday’s press briefing. This is what she said.

PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: As the president said himself, he 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. And in this case, the president has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses. And several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the president’s claim in this process. And again, the American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Samantha, your response to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ statement? Also, you initially raised these allegations, as did many of the women, last year during the campaign. What’s the change now, the decision now to come to this press conference yesterday?

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: You know, it was a tough decision to come back out, because I did get a lot of backlash last year when I spoke out, and so I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through all of that again. But when the—the idea was that all of us would come together, that all 16 women would come together, and seeing us as a group, seeing us there supporting each other, as well as telling our stories, there’s power in numbers. And that’s what I was just hoping, that maybe this year it would be different, since the climate is different.

AMY GOODMAN: Samantha, you’re from North Carolina.

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: I went to college in North Carolina. I grew up in West Virginia. I was born in Texas. I’m a Southern girl.

AMY GOODMAN: So, which makes it even more relevant to talk about Roy Moore right now. Your thoughts about President Trump endorsing this accused pedophile, this accused child molester?

SAMANTHA HOLVEY: I was absolutely disgusted, but not surprised, because that’s his MO. That is another testament to his character, the person he is. And, you know, it doesn’t matter that women come out with evidence. And this is—like, to make sure everybody knows, this is not a “he said, she said” thing. This is a “he said, she verified what he said, and then he said that he didn’t say that.” So, you know, it’s not a surprise that he came out for Roy Moore.

But what I would love to see, I would love to see Republicans take a stand, because women’s issues, the treatment of women, that’s not a partisan issue. That’s not something that only Democrats should believe in. This is something that every woman in American and every man in America needs to stand up and say, “No, we are no longer accepting this type of behavior.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was Samantha Holvey, a former Miss USA contestant from North Carolina when Trump owned the pageant. In December, Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke with Trump accuser Jessica Leeds. She recently retired after working 30 years as a stock broker. She’s a mother of two and grandmother of eight. I began by asking Jessica Leeds what happened to her when she encountered Donald Trump in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight in 1979.

JESSICA LEEDS: 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: 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: Do you want President Trump to resign?

JESSICA LEEDS: Resign, be taken out, absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Jessica Leeds. She recently retired after working 30 years as a stockbroker. When we come back, we look at the movement to impeach President Trump.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Grammy Award-winning Mexican singer Lila Downs, singing “Peligrosa,” “Dangerous Woman,” in the Democracy Now! studios. You can watch her full interview and performance at democracynow.org.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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