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Sanders says 2016 victory ‘answered’ allegations against Trump

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is doubling down on her argument that Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory “answered” groping allegations made during the campaign.

“The people of this country, at a decisive election, supported President Trump, and we feel like these allegations have been answered through that process,” Sanders told reporters Monday, hours after three of Trump’s accusers went on television to revive their claims.

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“The American people knew this and voted for the president, and we feel like we’re ready to move forward in that process,” Sanders added.

She similarly reasoned that allegations that Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore assaulted underage girls decades ago would be settled by “the people of Alabama” in Tuesday’s special election.

Sanders’ comments came amid a resurgence of attention to claims against Trump — including the infamous “Access Hollywood” video in which he was heard bragging about grabbing women by the genitals — as the list of politicians, media moguls and journalists fired or forced to resign over harassment claims continues to grow.

The three women who appeared Monday on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today” were among at least 16 who have accused Trump of some form of sexual misconduct. One woman, Summer Zervos, has sued him for defamation and accused him of groping her, kissing her against her will and thrusting his genitals at her while she was a contestant on “The Apprentice,” his NBC reality TV show.

Trump dismissed their claims last year as false, instead pointing at his then-opponent, Hillary Clinton, who he said had shielded her husband, Bill Clinton, during his presidency as he faced an array of sexual misconduct allegations, including rape.

No additional accusers have come forward since Trump took office.

But Samantha Holvey — a former Miss USA contestant who said that Trump once ogled her and her fellow pageant participants in their private dressing room — said on Kelly’s show on Monday that the recent tidal wave of sexual assault allegations and repercussions against powerful men has opened a window for her and other women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct to “try round two” and seek accountability from the president.

“You know, it was heartbreaking last year, when we all — you know, we’re private citizens and for us to put ourselves out there to try to show America who this man is and especially how he views women, and for them to say, ‘Meh, we don’t care,’ it hurt,” Holvey said. “And so, you know, now it’s just like, all right, let’s try round two. The environment’s different. Let’s try again.”

Holvey was joined Monday by Jessica Leeds, who said Trump groped her in the first-class cabin of a commercial flight in the 1980s, and Rachel Crooks, who said he kissed her against her will in 2005. Over the course of almost the entire hour of Kelly’s show, the three women detailed their allegations against Trump, all of which he has repeatedly and emphatically denied.

Crooks noted that the Senate was “more than willing” to launch an ethics investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who announced last week that he was resigning.

“Why is the president immune to that?” Crooks asked.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) joined four other lawmakers on Monday in calling for Trump to step down over sexual misconduct allegations or face investigation.

“President Trump should resign,” Gillibrand said during an interview on CNN. “These allegations are credible; they are numerous. I’ve heard these women’s testimony, and many of them are heartbreaking.”

She added that if Trump did not “immediately resign,” Congress “should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable.”

The remarks came on the heels of similar calls by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), all of whom urged the president to step down following Franken’s resignation announcement.

“We have a president who acknowledged on tape that he assaulted women,” Sanders tweeted Thursday after Franken said in a speech on the Senate floor that he would resign in the coming weeks. “I would hope that he pays attention to what’s going on and think about resigning.”

Franken, who was accused of groping by several women, took a parting shot at Trump during the address, lamenting the “irony” that he was leaving office “while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.”

Trump tweeted about the first claim against Franken in November, after a Los Angeles radio host released a photograph of the former entertainer reaching for her breasts.

“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” Trump tweeted. “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said at the time that Trump had commented because the allegations were “a brand-new news story.”

Yet Sanders, the press secretary, said Monday that Trump “feels strongly that a mere allegation shouldn’t determine the course.” She added that the president had denied the harassment allegations lodged against him.

On the Kelly show, all three of Trump’s accusers seemed to chafe at the president’s labeling them liars. Holvey said she found president’s inauguration too painful to watch, and Crooks said she had been the target of fake-news purveyors who created false articles about her. Leeds recalled that Trump had used a vulgarity to describe her — “the worst one” — when the two met again years later at a charity event in New York.

Kelly paired the women’s accounts with Trump’s own words, remarks that seemed to corroborate the allegations, including the “Access Hollywood” recording and a clip from Howard Stern’s radio show in which the president described how his ownership of the Miss USA pageant allowed him to enter the contestants’ dressing room when other men could not.

Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

The White House, which Kelly said had initially declined to offer a statement to NBC ahead of the women’s appearance, ultimately did so as the show was airing live. Kelly read the statement to the women and her audience on the air.

“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the White House statement said. “The timing and absurdity of these claims speaks volumes. And the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”

The statement, as read by Kelly, did not make clear which episodes the Trump administration claimed had been disputed by witness accounts. In Leeds’ case, a British man claims to have flown on the same flight as her and Trump and said last year that he saw nothing inappropriate between the two. Leeds said his memory of the flight, specifically his claim that she had been wearing a white pantsuit, was inaccurate because she has never owned such a suit.

“I would like to see some reckoning,” Leeds, who said she is a Democrat, told Kelly. “I would like to see that he’s not Teflon and that he acknowledges, in some fashion or another, and be called to answer to the charges.”

In an appearance Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Trump’s United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, suggested that it would be wrong to dismiss out of hand new allegations made against the president.

“Women who accuse anyone should be heard. They should be heard and they should be dealt with,” Haley said. “And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”

She added that it was “for the people to decide” whether Trump should face any consequences going forward.

“I know that he was elected,” she said when asked whether she believed the allegations against the president to be settled. “But, you know, women should always feel comfortable coming forward. And we should all be willing to listen to them.”

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