WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced the “fabricated stories” of women who have accused him of sexual harassment, and attacked a Democratic female US senator in a crude tweet after she demanded his resignation over the claims.
As the #MeToo movement of harassment victims speaking out has gathered pace in the worlds of politics and entertainment, Trump has found himself once again in the crosshairs.
So far, more than 100 members of Congress have called for a probe into allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump, including his target on Tuesday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Three women who claim they were sexually harassed by Trump before he ran for president urged lawmakers Monday to open the inquiry into his alleged misconduct, which includes unwanted kissing, touching and groping.
Rachel Crooks, who worked as a receptionist in Trump Tower in New York, says the real estate tycoon forcibly kissed her on the mouth after she introduced herself to him in 2005.
Jessica Leeds, who says she was groped and kissed by Trump on a commercial flight decades ago, said the president has not been held accountable for “what he is and who he is”.
Trump struck back in a series of tweets – and seemingly accused Democrats of egging on the women who addressed reporters about the alleged harassment.
“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia – so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met. Fake Nnews!” he tweeted.
He also antagonised several female Democrats by calling Gillibrand a “lightweight senator … who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)”.
The tweet, and its demeaning tone, earned quick scorn from the senator, who branded it a “sexist smear”.
“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office,” Gillibrand fired back.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said only those with minds “in the gutter” would see the tweet as suggestive.
“There is no way that this is sexist at all,” Sanders said.
Democrats rushed to Gillibrand’s defence, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, who herself has been a target of Trump’s taunts, and who used incendiary language of her own.
“Are you really trying to bully, intimidate and s**t-shame @SenGillibrand?” Warren tweeted. “Do you know who you’re picking a fight with?”
Gillibrand has spent years in Congress pressing for broader protections for victims of sexual abuse, and demanding that the military and government agencies be held accountable.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who helped jumpstart the #MeToo movement on Capitol Hill by acknowledging that she had been sexually harassed as a congressional staffer years ago, called Trump’s tweet “grotesque”.
Senator Tim Kaine – Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 – branded it “low-life behaviour”.
More than a dozen women have come forward with claims of misconduct by Trump, who boasted in a video tape that surfaced during the campaign that he could kiss and grope women with impunity, because of his celebrity.
Three US lawmakers announced their resignations from Congress last week over sexual harassment allegations, including Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota.
Congresswoman Lois Frankel, who authored the letter from dozens of female lawmakers calling on the House oversight committee to investigate Trump, said the surge of women publicizing their harrowing accounts of harassment could mark an important turning point.
“The Me Too movement has arrived,” Frankel said.
“Sexual abuse will not be tolerated, whether it’s by a Hollywood producer, the chef of a restaurant and member of Congress, or the president of the United States.” — AFP