After a video surfaced last week showing Donald Trump boasting in 2005 how he would kiss and grope women without consent, the GOP nominee insisted in Sunday's presidential debate that it was just "locker room talk" and, pressed repeatedly by CNN's Anderson Cooper, finally said that he had never actually taken the action he described.
But on Wednesday evening, the New York Times published a report citing two women who described how the billionaire businessman had allegedly previously touched them inappropriately.
Jessica Leeds, 74, affirmed to NPR on Wednesday night the account in the Times that more than three decades ago the now-Republican presidential nominee groped her on an airplane as she sat next to him:
"About 45 minutes after takeoff, she recalled, Mr. Trump lifted the armrest and began to touch her.
"According to Ms. Leeds, Mr. Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.
" 'He was like an octopus,' she said. 'His hands were everywhere.'
"She fled to the back of the plane. 'It was an assault,' she said."
Leeds submitted her account first in a letter to the editor. She also recounted her story to the Times on video.
Rachel Crooks described an incident in 2005 — the same year the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape was recorded — when she was a 22-year-old receptionist working in Trump Tower and encountered him in an elevator:
"Aware that her company did business with Mr. Trump, she turned and introduced herself. They shook hands, but Mr. Trump would not let go, she said. Instead, he began kissing her cheeks. Then, she said, he 'kissed me directly on the mouth.'
"It didn't feel like an accident, she said. It felt like a violation.
" 'It was so inappropriate,' Ms. Crooks recalled in an interview. 'I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.' "
Both women say they came forward after hearing Trump deny at the debate he had ever followed through on the vulgar actions he described in detail in the tape. Both had also told family members and friends after the assaults occurred.
In the 2005 Access Hollywood recording released late last week, Trump said, "I'm automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
"Grab them by the p****. You can do anything," he continued, using vulgar slang for the female anatomy.
Trump, Campaign And Times Response
The Times report said Trump threatened to sue the newspaper over the story and on Wednesday night he and his legal advisers moved towards legal action. A spokesperson for the Times tells NPR in a statement, "Prior to publication, we did hear from representatives for Donald Trump demanding that The Times refrain from publishing and accusing our reporter of dishonest journalism. We responded by publishing our story."
Trump denied the women's accusations to the Times as he threatened to sue. "You are a disgusting human being," he told Times reporter Megan Twohey. She told NPR's Morning Edition that Trump claimed to not remember either woman in the Times story and denied the allegations as well as previous ones. "He was shouting at me. These were very straightforward questions." The Times does not plan on apologizing or retracting the story, she told host Steve Inskeep. Trump called the story a "total fabrication" on Twitter Thursday morning:
Trump's campaign released a letter Wednesday from the candidate's lawyer to the Times, demanding the paper "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, lawyer Marc Kasowitz wrote, "will leave my client with no option but to pursue all available actions and remedies."
Trump's campaign put out a statement Wednesday evening from Senior Communications Adviser Jason Miller after the story published. Miller again denied the accusations and claiming the paper was trying to help his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton:
"This entire article is fiction, and for the New York Times to launch a completely false, coordinated character assassination against Mr. Trump on a topic like this is dangerous. To reach back decades in an attempt to smear Mr. Trump trivializes sexual assault, and it sets a new low for where the media is willing to go in its efforts to determine this election.
"It is absurd to think that one of the most recognizable business leaders on the planet with a strong record of empowering women in his companies would do the things alleged in this story, and for this to only become public decades later in the final month of a campaign for president should say it all."
Both women in the Times story said they were backing Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, and Crooks said she had donated less than $200 to both Clinton and President Obama's campaigns.
Clinton's campaign responded to the allegations on Wednesday night. "This disturbing story sadly fits everything we know about the way Donald Trump has treated women. These reports suggest that he lied on the debate stage and that the disgusting behavior he bragged about in the tape are more than just words," Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement.
Another BuzzFeed report out Wednesday described how when Trump owned the Miss Teen USA pageant he would walk into the dressing room when contestants, some as young as 15, while they were changing and told them, "Don't worry, ladies, I've seen it all before."
And, in the hours after the Times posted its story, several other news outlets ran similar articles about women recounting moments where they say Trump had grabbed or kissed them without seeking consent.
People magazine published a graphic account of a 2005 incident at Mar-A-Lago, written by Natasha Stoynoff, who once covered Trump for the outlet. She recounted how, during a tour of the estate, Trump ushered her into a room:
"We walked into that room alone, and Trump shut the door behind us. I turned around, and within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.
"Now, I'm a tall, strapping girl who grew up wrestling two giant brothers. I even once sparred with Mike Tyson. It takes a lot to push me. But Trump is much bigger — a looming figure — and he was fast, taking me by surprise and throwing me off balance. I was stunned. And I was grateful when Trump's longtime butler burst into the room a minute later, as I tried to unpin myself."
Shaken, Stoynoff said she proceeded with the interview – a joint interview with Trump and his wife, Melania. But shortly before Melania entered the room, Stoynoff said Trump told her, "You know we're going to have an affair, don't you?"
Trump responded on Twitter to the People story Thursday morning:
In the article, Stoynoff wrote about that decision:
"Back in my Manhattan office the next day, I went to a colleague and told her everything.
"'We need to go to the managing editor,' she said, 'And we should kill this story, it's a lie. Tell me what you want to do.'
"But, like many women, I was ashamed and blamed myself for his transgression. I minimized it ('It's not like he raped me...'); I doubted my recollection and my reaction. I was afraid that a famous, powerful, wealthy man could and would discredit and destroy me, especially if I got his coveted PEOPLE feature killed."
The latest accusations come as many Republican officials have abandoned Trump's campaign less than a month before Election Day. The Republican National Committee reiterated on Monday that they were still behind their nominee, but House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would no longer be defending or appearing with Trump.
Trump has also tried to gain leverage with accusations toward his opponent's husband, former President Bill Clinton. Ahead of Sunday's debate, he appeared with three women who had accused the former president of sexual assault or rape. And according to another Bloomberg News report on Wednesday night, he intends to double down on that strategy.
"This has nothing to do with consensual sexual affairs and infidelities. This is Bill. We're going to turn him into Bill Cosby. He's a violent sexual predator who physically abuses women who he assaults. And she takes the lead on the intimidation of the victims," Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon told staffers, according to Bloomberg.
NPR's Scott Detrow contributed to this report.