Three women who have publicly accused President Donald Trump of sexual misconduct shared their stories with NBC's Megyn Kelly Monday and spoke of the backlash they faced after coming forward with their claims.
"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," said Samantha Holvey, who claims Trump walked into the contestants' dressing room during the Miss America pageant in 2006. She competed that year in the pageant.
Holvey, Jessica Leeds and Rachel Crooks detailed their interactions with Trump, which they said ranged from groping to forcible kissing and making lewd propositions, in an exclusive interview on "Megyn Kelly Today.” The interview came hours before a news conference where the three women demanded that Congress investigate their claims.
Holvey, the former Miss North Carolina, told Kelly she felt like "a piece of meat" as Trump inspected the women backstage in an area that was off limits to men.
Kelly noted Trump once bragged during an interview on Howard Stern's radio show about being able to "get away with" seeing pageant contestants naked, saying, "I'm the owner of the pageant."
The White House said in a statement as NBC's interview aired that the "timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes," and reiterated that the American people "voiced their judgment" by electing Trump president.
"These false claims totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign," the White House statement said. "And the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory. The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them."
Crooks said she introduced herself to Trump in 2005 outside an elevator in Trump Tower in Manhattan, where she worked as a receptionist, and that he kissed her on the lips.
"He held onto my hand and he kept kissing me," Crooks said. "I was shocked. Devastated.”
Crooks said at the time she believed she would have lost her job if she said anything about the interaction to her company because “Trump was an important partner.”
"I wish I had been stronger then," she said.
She said the denials from the White House are "laughable" and "crazy."
"I can’t imagine anyone wanting to come into the spotlight about this," she said. "The things that happened to us spanned decades, states — all over — how could we have possibly colluded to come up with these tales that all sound eerily similar."
Leeds said she was on a flight in the the late 1970s when she claims that Trump, who was seated next to her, started groping her.
“All of a sudden he was all over me kissing and groping,” she recounted to Kelly. "Nothing was said. It was just this silent groping going on. When his hands started going up my skirt, I managed to wiggle out, stand up and go to the back of the airplane.”
Asked if coming forward with her story during the election was part of a politically motivated attempt to stop Trump from being elected, Leeds, a self-proclaimed Democrat, said, “I didn’t think I had that kind of power.”
"I wanted people to know what kind of person he is. What a pervert he is,” she said.
Speaking at a press conference following the interview, the women called for a nonpartisan investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump. They said that since they can't sue Trump for sexual harassment because the statute of limitations has expired in their cases, "an investigation by Congress is the only thing we could ask for."
In the meantime, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality show "The Apprentice" in 2006, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the president after he dismissed as "fabricated and made-up charges" her claims that he made unwanted sexual contact with her at a Beverly Hills, California, hotel in 2007. Her lawsuit seeks an apology and at least $2,914.
More than a dozen women stepped forward during the 2016 elections to allege sexual misconduct by Trump in the wake of a recording where he boasted about grabbing women by their genitals and made other crude remarks. The women's allegations are featured in recently released documentary titled "16 Women and Donald Trump."
According to The New York Times, Trump has recently denied to some political allies that it was him in the 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape, even though he directly confirmed the remarks and apologized for them a month before the presidential election last year.
The women’s interview and press conference comes amid a torrent of sexual misconduct allegations that have toppled high-profile men in news, politics and entertainment, among them, Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Russell Simmons and Kevin Spacey.
Holvey said now that the environment surrounding sexual misconduct has changed, "let's try round two."
This past week alone three U.S. politicians announced their resignations over allegations of misconduct.
Democratic Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, a civil rights hero who'd been the House's longest-serving current member, resigned after facing sexual harassment allegations.
Republican Rep. Trent Franks, of Arizona, resigned as well, effective Jan. 3, after admitting he had asked two female staff aides about becoming a surrogate mother.
Senator Al Franken, a rising political star only weeks ago, reluctantly announced he's resigning from Congress, succumbing to a torrent of sexual harassment allegations and evaporating support from fellow Democrats. But he fired a defiant parting shot at Trump and other Republicans he said have survived much worse accusations.
Last week, Time Magazine named the "silence breakers" who spoke up about sexual misconduct as its Person of the Year for 2017.
On Tuesday, Alabama residents will vote in a U.S. Senate election in which the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers decades ago when he was a county prosecutor. Moore has denied the allegations, and he has found support from President Trump in recent days.
"It’s horrifying and it’s confusing because you’d think that the good people of Alabama could see through this," Leeds said during Monday's press conference. "But we’ve gotten so polarized with the politics and they want to keep a Republican seat, even though it’s a pedophile."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Sunday broke the Trump administration line when she said 16 women who have accused Trump of sexual impropriety have the right to be heard.
"I know that he was elected," Haley said on CBS’ "Face the Nation." "But, you know, women should always feel comfortable coming forward. And we should all be willing to listen to them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.