Trump denial compelled accuser to go public

A woman who accused Donald Trump of sexual assault said she was compelled to tell her story after watching his comments at the second presidential debate.

Jessica Leeds told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday night that she didn’t want to come forward with her story because the incident in question happened so long ago. But she was angry after hearing the Republican presidential candidate’s answer Sunday night to a question about whether he had ever groped a woman without her consent.

“It was too long ago. So, but when you at … the debate, when you specifically asked Trump had he ever groped a woman — or I forget how you phrased it. And he said ‘no,’” she told Cooper, who was one of the debate moderators.

Cooper said, “Yes, I asked him if he’d ever — if he was just bragging about sexual assault or if he had actually done what he said.”

“Right, and he said no,” she continued. “And I literally wanted to throw something at the TV or punch my hand in the TV. And that — that was Sunday night. And Monday morning, I found myself writing an email, letter to the editor to the [New York] Times.”

Leeds said there was something about actually watching Trump, onstage, deny touching or assaulting women that compelled her to go public. She said Trump might not even be aware that he’s lying because he’s built up the “defenses in his head” to such a point that he doesn’t know the truth.

“I really would like for the fact that he’s lying and he lies about so many things, really brought out and, yes, you did. You asked a very good question,” she told Cooper, adding that Trump is an expert at pivoting to other topics. “But he’s very good at, all of a sudden, he was talking about ISIS, and he was talking about defense and he was talking about this, that and the other. So, he manages to change the conversation.”

Leeds’ accusation was one of four bombshell allegations of forcible touching leveled against Trump on Wednesday. Trump has fiercely fought back against the claims, suggesting that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, is in cahoots with the media to smear him.

Another one of the women, Mindy McGillivray, also told the Palm Beach Post that she was motivated by Sunday’s debate, where Trump had told Cooper that he had never kissed or groped a woman without her consent. Last Friday, the Washington Post published a 2005 video recording of Trump boasting about doing exactly that.

For her part, Leeds said she couldn’t sleep the night of the debate as she thought about what she should do and how she should do it. She said she previously shared her story with two friends and that they thought she should go public with her story.

She added that she was amazed with how quickly the Times responded to her and how fast the whole experience escalated. Initially, she said, she thought the paper would just rewrite her email in the letters to the editor section. A phone interview led to an in-person interview, which led to a video interview.

The Times published her account of Trump allegedly forcing himself upon her aboard a plane headed to New York on Wednesday. Another woman, Rachel Crooks, also accused Trump of unwanted sexual advances in the Times article. A fourth woman, People magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, also spoke out Wednesday about Trump allegedly “forcing his tongue down [her] throat” in 2005.

“And then I was out last night at a concert. And I had alerted my daughter that they were going to publish it online,” she said. “And — so, when I came out from the concert, my phone, of course, I had turned it off, my phone was buzzing all over the place. And there was my daughter saying, ‘Oh, my God.’ So, that is when I saw the video.”

Cooper asked Leeds if she was aware of how much criticism there would be for her to tell her story about a presidential candidate during such a contentious election cycle. Trump’s campaign manager, Katrina Pierson, for instance, argued that Leeds’ story could not be true because the aircraft that flew into New York at the time of the alleged assault did not have adjustable armrests. Leeds said she is not opening any emails she does not recognize and is not watching television.

Linda Ross, one of Leeds’ friends, said on “CNN Tonight With Don Lemon” that she did not question why Leeds didn’t say anything about the alleged assault immediately after it happened. Ross noted that it was more difficult for women to report such incidents decades ago.

“We didn’t tell these things generally. So, she told me her story and I was literally shaking,” she said. “I was horrified by what she told me and I didn’t ask her why she didn’t tell anybody at the time, because I knew why she didn’t. We just didn’t. There were repercussions if you were a businessperson and dealing with businesspeople, you’re usually outnumbered. It was just a difficult thing to do.”

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