NEW YORK — Donald Trump sailed past a raft of allegations of sexual misconduct in last year’s presidential election.
Now the national #MeToo spotlight is turning back to Trump and his past conduct. Several of his accusers are urging Congress to investigate his behavior, and a number of Democratic lawmakers are demanding his resignation.
With each day seeming to bring new headlines that force men from positions of power, the movement to expose sexual harassment has forced an unwelcome conversation on the White House. In a heated exchange with reporters in the White House briefing room on Monday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders steadfastly dismissed accusations against the Republican president and suggested the issue had already been litigated in Trump’s favor on Election Day.
But to Trump’s accusers, the rising #MeToo movement is an occasion to ensure he is at last held accountable.
“It was heartbreaking last year. We’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try and show America who this man is and how he views women, and for them to say, ‘Eh, we don’t care,’ it hurt,” Samantha Holvey said Monday. The former beauty queen claimed that Trump ogled her and other Miss USA pageant contestants in their dressing room in 2006.
“Let’s try round two,” she said. “The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”
Holvey was one of four women to make her case against Trump on Monday, both in an NBC interview and then in a news conference. Rachel Crooks, a former Trump Tower receptionist who said the celebrity businessman kissed her on the mouth in 2006 without consent, called for Congress to “put aside party affiliations and investigate Trump’s history of sexual misconduct.”
“If they were willing to investigate Sen. Franken, it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump,” Crooks said.
Franken, the Democratic senator from Minnesota, announced last week that he would resign amid an ethics probe into accusations that he sexually harassed several women. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., also resigned after misconduct accusations.
But a Capitol Hill investigation into Trump’s conduct appears unlikely. The Senate and House Ethics Committees investigate members of Congress, not presidents, and Republican-led committees are not apt to investigate Trump on sexual misconduct unless there is some sort of connection to the ongoing Russia probe.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Congress shouldn’t investigate the allegations against Trump.
“I don’t think there’s any forum for us to do that,” he said. “Just think about how that could be abused.”
Nonetheless, several Democratic senators have seized the moment and called for Trump to step down.
“President Trump should resign,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told CNN on Monday. “These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley have also called on Trump to resign.
White House aides have warily watched the movement sweep Capitol Hill, opting to repeat rote denials about allegations against the president. The president’s advisers were stunned Sunday when one of the highest-ranking women in the Trump administration broke with the White House line and said the accusers’ voices “should be heard.”
“They should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a CBS interview. “And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
Haley’s comments infuriated the president, according to two people who are familiar with his views but who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. Trump has grown increasingly angry in recent days that the accusations against him have resurfaced, telling associates that the charges are false and drawing parallels to the accusations facing Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Sixteen women have come forward with a range of accusations against Trump, many after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape last October in which Trump was caught on an open microphone bragging about groping women. One woman, Summer Zevos, a contestant on Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice,” sued, contending that Trump’s denials of her accusations amount to false and defamatory statements.
Jessica Leeds, who appeared at Monday’s news conference, recalled sitting on an airplane next to Trump in the 1970s when he began to fondle her.
“All of a sudden, he’s all over me. Kissing and groping, groping and kissing,” she said. “Nothing was said. It was just this silent groping going on.”
Trump denied the allegations during the campaign, and Sanders did the same Monday.
“Look, 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,” Sanders said. “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.”
Sanders declined to say whether she believed the accusers or if she herself had been the victim of harassment. She grew impatient with the repeated questions and pledged to provide a list of eyewitnesses whose accounts exonerated the president.
The White House did not provide the list by late Monday.