“Con Game”? Trump Accuser Jessica Leeds Responds to His Dismissal of Sexual Assault Allegations

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Ahead of today’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Trump lashes out at the women who have accused him and his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, saying Democrats are running a “con game.” We get response from Jessica Leeds, whom Trump referenced in comments Wednesday. She is one of 16 Trump accusers, who says he groped her 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.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the professor who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were both teenagers, is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, even as new allegations continue to emerge and a confirmation vote is set for Friday. In Dr. Blasey Ford’s prepared testimony, released Wednesday, she calls Kavanaugh, quote, “the boy who sexually assaulted me,” and describes the night of the assault, stating, “I believed he was going to rape me.” She adds, quote, “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget.”

Speaking from the United Nations at the second solo news conference of his presidency, Trump did not once mention the names of Kavanaugh’s accusers; instead, he attacked Julie Swetnick’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti, and accused Democrats of running a, quote, “con game” aimed at derailing the nomination.

JONATHAN KARL: But, Mr. President, if I could follow up? You have daughters. Can you understand why a victim of sexual assault would not report it at the time? Don’t you understand—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: By the way, I only say this: 36 years, no charge, no nothing.

JONATHAN KARL: But that—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Everybody—

JONATHAN KARL: That happens often. I mean—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People are going to have to make a decision. Thirty-six years, there’s no charge. All of a sudden, the hearings are over, and the rumors start coming out. And then you have this other con artist, Avenatti, come out with another beauty today. I only say that you have to look at the facts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Meanwhile, Kavanaugh has denied Dr. Blasey Ford’s accusation, as well as other allegations of sexual misconduct made public by two other women this week. On Wednesday, a new accuser, Julie Swetnick, came forward with help from lawyer Michael Avenatti and alleged in a sworn declaration that she observed Kavanaugh at high school parties in the 1980s participating in efforts to inebriate girls so they could be gang-raped. She says Kavanaugh was present at a party in which she herself was the victim of a, quote, “gang rape.” In a statement released by the White House, Kavanaugh called Swetnick’s claims, quote, “ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone.” On Wednesday, Trump called the allegations against Kavanaugh a “big fat con job” and said he, too, had faced false allegations.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I had a woman sitting in an airplane, and I attacked her while people were coming onto the plane, and I have a number one best-seller out? I mean, it was a total phony story. There are many of them. So, when you say, does it affect me in terms of my thinking with respect to Judge Kavanaugh, absolutely, because I’ve had it many times.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Jessica Leeds, the woman Trump just referred to in his news conference, one of the 16 Trump accusers who decided to speak out as Donald Trump was running for president. Jessica Leeds says Donald Trump groped her in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight, tried to put his hand up her skirt. She has recently retired after working 30 years as a stockbroker. She’s a mother of two, grandmother of eight.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Jessica. It’s great to have you with us. Before I get you to respond to Donald Trump, explain what happened to you, for people who aren’t familiar with what happened when you got on a commercial flight. When was it?

JESSICA LEEDS: Oh, it was in the—around 1980. And I, at this point, would think that everybody has heard about it. So, it’s—

AMY GOODMAN: Assume nothing.

JESSICA LEEDS: Forgive me if, to some degree, it sounds like an old story. I was a traveling sales rep. I was on an airplane coming in from either Dallas or Atlanta. I don’t remember which one, but it was a long flight. And the stewardess came back to me in the business section and asked me would I be interested in coming up to first class. Worked for me. So I came on up, and it was the first two seats in the section, right against the bulkhead.

There was a young man sitting there, blondish. He stuck his hand out, introduced himself as Donald Trump. Name meant nothing to me. While I was working out of Connecticut, New York and New York politics, New York society was totally out of my realm of knowledge. Dinner was served, and it was after dinner when, truly, all of a sudden, without a word, without a “by your leave” or about any kind of social conversation, he started groping me.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean? What did he do?

JESSICA LEEDS: His hands were—he was trying to kiss me. His hands were on my breasts. He was—we were kind of wrestling. But I didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything. So it was like this kind of kabuki theater in the silence. I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t the guy across the aisle say something? Why doesn’t the stewardess come back?” And it seemed to go on forever, but, or course, it didn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: He put his hand up your skirt?

JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, he started putting his hand up my skirt. And that’s when I, with effort, managed to wiggle my way out, grabbed my purse, and I went to the back of the airplane. And I sat there until the plane landed and was completely clear, before—because I didn’t want to run into him. And that’s what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: You didn’t tell a flight attendant?

JESSICA LEEDS: I did not tell the flight attendant. I didn’t tell the airlines. I didn’t tell my boss. I didn’t tell my family. I didn’t tell anybody. I really kind of chalked it off that he was a jerk, and those were kind of the things that could happen on the road.

AMY GOODMAN: You bumped into him after that?

JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, four years later in New York City. And by that time, I knew who he was. I knew his family’s—because I was working for a charity, and it was very important to them to have the Trump come. And I was assigned to give out the table numbers. And Trump and his wife, Ivana—she was very pregnant at this point. She came up. Oh, it was a gala evening, all the designers. I got to meet all the designers. But, here comes Trump. And now I’m remembering that whole situation, and that’s what’s flashing through my mind, but I’m not saying anything. And I hand him his table assignment, and he looks at me, and he says, “I remember you. You were that woman from the airplane.” And then he called me a very obscene name.

AMY GOODMAN: Starting with a C.

JESSICA LEEDS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Four letters.

JESSICA LEEDS: Yes. And it was like I was suddenly all alone. It was a crowded room, but suddenly I felt so alone. It was like everybody sort of disappeared. And nothing more was said. He took his—and went off his merry way. And I left as soon as I possibly could.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about, Jessica, if you could respond to Trump referencing this incident—

JESSICA LEEDS: It was. Yes.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —yesterday and calling it phony?

JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah, well, it was a long time ago. And I’m, frankly, of the opinion, especially with Trump and his age, because men like that, that, for them, it means nothing. It’s like scratching an itch. It means nothing. They forget about it two seconds after it’s happened. And women don’t.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Trump during the campaign trail. This isn’t the first time he’s mentioned you. Going back to the campaign trail before he was president.

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: There were Donald Trump’s disgusting comments.

JESSICA LEEDS: Well, he can’t see past the age. He can’t see past, which is why sometimes pictures of me, when, at that time, are brought up, because I’m a 76-year-old woman. Now he can’t see past the hair and the wrinkles. But the fact remains that when he says I wasn’t pretty enough—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, we know what he said, because we have the videotape of him in the bus talking about how he cannot help himself—

JESSICA LEEDS: Yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —which—why he gropes women’s genitals—

JESSICA LEEDS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —which is exactly the description—

JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that you gave of what happened to you. But I wanted to also go to this issue that he keeps raising with Dr. Blasey Ford, saying we’re talking about—and with Deborah Ramirez—decades ago, he says.

JESSICA LEEDS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you, too. What do you remember, and what don’t you? And how do you respond to that issue of memory? Let me go to Trump speaking at the news conference, disparaging—responding to the CBS reporter, Weijia Jiang, questioning him.

WEIIJIA JIANG: You also said that if what she said were as bad as she claims, surely her or her parents would have reported it. And just today you said you wouldn’t—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, there is a truth. I mean, there is a chance that her parents could have reported it 36 years ago.

WEIIJIA JIANG: So, my question is—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It doesn’t mean they had to report it, because in some instances people keep it quiet. It’s a very tough situation for a woman. There’s no question about it. And in some cases they do report it. Frankly, had they reported it, it would have been pretty amazing, wouldn’t it? But I guess they didn’t, and that’s OK. I’m not saying they had to report it, because it’s a very personal thing. It’s a very big problem. There’s no question about it. Go ahead.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this issue of memory and also why you wait. How long did it take you to reveal this?

JESSICA LEEDS: I didn’t start telling anybody, my family included, until 2015, when I realized that Trump was really going to run for president.

AMY GOODMAN: So for 35 years.

JESSICA LEEDS: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Almost the same amount of time as Dr. Blasey Ford.

JESSICA LEEDS: Exactly, exactly. I had dismissed it. As I said, he was a jerk. But when I realized he was seriously running for president, then I thought, “Well, you know, I want people to know.” So I told my family. I told my friends, I told my neighbors. I told my book club. There were several groups, when I would tell my story, that I could tell some of them didn’t believe me.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of details, what you remember and what you don’t.

JESSICA LEEDS: Right, right. But people have a perfect right to say, “Well, that was a long time ago, and maybe your memory is flawed.” I respect that. But it still needs to be acknowledged, because how many women now in this #MeToo movement? How many women have I talked to? During the first scrum, I got—I went over the story so often that I found myself saying, “Oh, I can’t tell it again.” And I found myself asking the reporters, the crews, the people who would come with them—I would ask them, “Well, you know, tell me about your story.” And every single one of them had a story, some of them minor, but they remembered.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the details.

JESSICA LEEDS: With details, what they had on, how they got out of it. Some of it was as simple as “I didn’t get a promotion because I wouldn’t go out to lunch with this guy.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in a sense, Dr. Blasey Ford’s experience parallels your own, in the sense that she also only came forward once Kavanaugh was about to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. And she also said that the experience drastically altered her life, and that for a very long time she was afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details. Would you say that’s true of you, as well, that it drastically altered your life?

JESSICA LEEDS: No. Well, yes. I stopped wearing skirts. All right? I cut my hair extremely short and kept it short, because I did not want to draw attention to my femininity as I was working. You make all these adjustments. I wouldn’t go to a bar by myself. You know, that was stupid. But you learn those things. And a 15-year-old kid who probably didn’t tell her parents she was going to the party. She was thrilled to be asked. I mean, I can project what was going on. I haven’t asked my daughter what’s happened to her, but I’m sure it has. I haven’t asked my granddaughter, who is a waitress, what she’s had to tolerate. We have been so inculturated over the years, and I’m afraid it goes back—I was flippant this morning and said, to the time we were chimpanzees. We’ve been so inculturated and so controlled that it’s just recently that I think we’re making a move. And I know we’re asking a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: And your comment, finally, on President Trump being the one to disparage the accusers of Brett Kavanaugh? President Trump, of course, the one who chose Brett Kavanaugh, not that he knew this at the time.

JESSICA LEEDS: Basically, Trump is incoherent. So he’s all over the ballpark. As soon as an idea comes that he thinks he can defend—

AMY GOODMAN: But on this issue.

JESSICA LEEDS: Yeah. Well, but on this issue, he cannot, because he has no introspection for himself, fathom what the problem really is.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to leave it at that right now. We’re going to go to break. And then we’re also going to be joined once again by Lili Bernard, who’s just back from Pennsylvania, where she was in the courtroom when Bill Cosby was sentenced. She’s one of more than 60 women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct and rape. This is Democracy Now! Jessica Leeds, our guest, one of 16 women who have accused President Trump of sexual misconduct. She recently retired after working 30 years as a stockbroker. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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Bill Cosby Survivor Lili Bernard: Women Who Report Sexual Assault Are Often “Re-Raped” in Court

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