- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2016

In a move that has rocked the trajectory of the presidential campaign, a stunning number of women emerged over the last few days to tell stories of unwanted kisses and groping by Donald Trump, rushing to newspapers and television networks to raise more questions about whether the GOP nominee can serve as president.

Mr. Trump, struggling to make up ground against Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the polls, vehemently denied the allegations and lashed out repeatedly Thursday at news organizations for giving the women a forum. He demanded a retraction from The New York Times for a report of two accusers coming forward years later to detail their own encounters with the billionaire businessman — one on an airplane and the other inside Trump Tower.

Republican voters and down-ballot GOP candidates, meanwhile, continued to grapple with their damaged nominee — with the latest polling showing some slippage, though no wholesale abandonment.

“These claims are all fabricated. They’re pure fiction and they’re outright lies,” Mr. Trump told supporters at a campaign stop in Florida. “These events never, ever happened, and the people that said them, meekly, fully understand.”

His campaign hinted at massive retaliation against Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who has faced his own accusations of sexual assault and rape and was impeached during his second term in the White House.

Among the new accusations are those from two women who talked with The New York Times and a People magazine reporter who wrote about a 2005 incident in which she says Mr. Trump forced himself on her at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, with his wife Melania, then pregnant, nearby.

SEE ALSO: More women accuse Donald Trump of unwanted touching

The People reporter, Natasha Stoynoff, wrote Wednesday that she blamed herself and doubted her recollection at the time, saying she was afraid a powerful, wealthy man would “discredit and destroy” her.

Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks, the two women in The New York Times story, told the paper they were dismayed by Mr. Trump’s testimony at Sunday’s presidential debate that he never acted out the lewd behavior he described on a recently unearthed 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape.

Another woman, Mindy McGillivray, told The Palm Beach Post she was groped by Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago 13 years ago, and that she yelled “You liar!” at the TV screen while watching Sunday’s debate. Mr. Trump’s team also flatly denied Ms. McGillivray’s account.

Mr. Trump questioned why the women were coming forward now. He said given his celebrity status as host of the hit reality TV show “The Apprentice” in 2005, the reporter whose accusations date to then would have gotten attention if she had made them public at the time.

“It would have been one of the biggest stories of the year. Think of it,” he said. “And by the way, the area was a public area — people all over the place. Take a look. You take a look. Look at her; look at her words — you tell me what you think. I don’t think so.”

Libel threat

Mr. Trump’s campaign demanded a retraction and apology from The New York Times, accusing it of libel.

The paper said it stood by its reporters, and David McCraw, the paper’s lawyer, essentially dared Mr. Trump to sue.

“The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms,” the lawyer wrote. “Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.”

Mr. McCraw also defended the newsworthiness of the reports, saying the journalists “diligently worked to confirm the women’s accounts” and saying voters deserved to know.

Mr. Trump said the allegations were personally “very painful,” but vowed to press on.

“I will not allow the Clinton machine to turn our campaign into a discussion of their slanders and lies, but will remain focused on the issues facing the American people,” he said.

But the billionaire developer and reality TV star has had a rocky few weeks, dating back to the shaky first presidential debate and continuing through last week’s release of a 2005 tape in which he boasts in coarse terms about leveraging his “star” status to force himself upon women.

His campaign also acknowledged Thursday it was shifting around resources devoted to Virginia, a longtime GOP stronghold in presidential years that President Obama carried twice, in an indication that a key swing state could be slipping out of reach for him.

National polls reflect growing concerns among voters, including Republicans, over his ability to sit in the Oval Office.

Hillary Clinton led Mr. Trump head to head by 8 points, 49 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters in a national Fox News Poll released Thursday that was taken in the days following Sunday’s presidential debate. The 8-point margin is up from a 4-point lead Mrs. Clinton had over Mr. Trump in a Fox poll released earlier this month.

First lady Michelle Obama, campaigning in New Hampshire for Mrs. Clinton Thursday, said the 2005 video had “shaken” her in a way she could not have predicted. She said Mr. Trump’s recent comments constituted “bragging about sexually assaulting women.”

“This is not normal. This is not politics as usual,” Mrs. Obama said.

As a counterpunch to the 2005 tape, Mr. Trump and other Republicans have highlighted the stories of women who have accused Mr. Clinton of sexual misconduct.

Ahead of Sunday’s debate in Missouri, Mr. Trump held a panel discussion with three of the women — Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey — who for years have accused Mr. Clinton of rape or sexual assault. The women also attended the debate.

“What Trump has decided to do … is he is going to basically go from the Queensberry rules of campaigning to full-on UFC with a scorched-earth policy where everyone, everything is in play,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

“And their theory is that by Election Day 2016, their message is simple: Clinton is going to destroy America,” he said. “And Trump is the only guy who’s going to save and fix it.”

But former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a top Trump adviser, questioned the nominee’s recent performance and, in particular, his recent tendency to lash out at House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and other establishment Republicans who Mr. Trump believes are not strongly backing his candidacy and rejecting the accusations lodged against him.

Donald Trump has one opponent. Her name is Hillary Clinton. Her name is not Paul Ryan. It’s not anybody else,” Mr. Gingrich said on Fox Business. “Let me just say about Trump, who I admire and I’ve tried to help as much as I can: There’s a big Trump and a little Trump. The little Trump is frankly pathetic.”

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