WASHINGTON Two women accused Donald Trump of inappropriate touching in a story published on Wednesday by the New York Times, claims his spokesman called "fiction" but which may further damage the Republican presidential nominee's chances of winning the White House just four weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
The report was followed by a stream of similar allegations from other women, putting more pressure on the Trump campaign as it lags in national opinion polls and struggles to contain a crisis caused by the candidate's comments about groping women without their consent which surfaced on Friday.
One of the women, Jessica Leeds, appeared on camera on the New York Times' website to recount how Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight to New York in or around 1980. (nyti.ms/2dx8k5R)
The second woman, Rachel Crooks, described how Trump "kissed me directly on the mouth" in 2005 outside the elevator in Trump Tower in Manhattan, where she was a receptionist at a real estate firm.
Trump's campaign denied there was any truth to the New York Times accounts. It made public a letter to the newspaper from Marc Kasowitz, a lawyer representing Trump, demanding it retract the story, calling it "libelous," and threatening legal action if it did not comply.
"This entire article is fiction, and for the New York Times to launch a completely false, coordinated character assassination against Mr. Trump on a topic like this is dangerous," the Trump campaign's senior communications adviser Jason Miller said in a statement.
Reuters could not independently verify the incidents. Leeds and Crooks did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
"We stand by the story, which falls clearly into the realm of public service journalism," a New York Times spokeswoman said.
The report comes just two days after a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed one in five Republicans thought Trump's comments about groping women disqualified him from the presidency, and put him 8 points behind Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton among likely voters.
MORE ACCOUNTS SURFACE
Within hours, several other media outlets published similar reports. People magazine published a detailed first-person account from one of its reporters, Natasha Stoynoff. (bit.ly/2dTm90D)
Stoynoff said Trump pinned her against a wall at his Florida estate in 2005 and kissed her as she struggled to get away.
"I turned around, and within seconds, he was pushing me against the wall, and forcing his tongue down my throat," Stoynoff said.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the People story late on Wednesday. The article included a denial from a Trump spokeswoman who called the story a "politically motivated fictional pile-on."
Around the same time, the Palm Beach Post reported a claim by Mindy McGillivray, 36, a woman in South Florida, that Trump had grabbed her bottom 13 years ago while she was working at his Mar a Lago estate as a photographer's assistant.
"There is no truth to this whatsoever," Trump's spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Post. McGillivray could not be reached for comment.
CHASTISED BY SOME REPUBLICANS
The reports come on the heels of a 2005 video that surfaced on Friday that showed Trump bragging about groping women, kissing them without permission, and trying to seduce a married woman.
"I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait," Trump is heard saying on the tape.
Trump said during the second presidential debate on Sunday that he had not actually done the things he had boasted about, and apologized for his remarks, which he called private "locker room talk."
The bombshell video has jeopardized Trump's chances of winning on Election Day, and put Republican control of the U.S. Congress in danger.
He was chastised by Republican leaders, and some called on him to drop out of the presidential race.
On Wednesday, Trump escalated his attacks on U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan after Ryan said he was no longer going to campaign for or defend Trump.
Trump complained to thousands of supporters jammed into a livestock arena in Ocala, Florida, that Ryan and others had not congratulated him on his debate performance on Sunday, and the crowd booed in sympathy.
"There is a whole deal going on and we’re going to figure it out. I always figure things out. But there’s a whole sinister deal going on," Trump said.
Trump has largely kept the support of conservative Christians, a key voting bloc he needs to win the election.
"I take him at his word. I think he's a good man," evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. told CNN on Wednesday.
Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview on Fox News Channel that he would vote for Trump in spite of being "disgusted" by his comments, because he wanted to see conservative justices named to the Supreme Court.
The interview was taped before the New York Times story was published, but Boehner said he thought it was likely that more negative stories would emerge in the last month of the campaign.
"What more could be said in this election cycle than has already been said?" Boehner asked. "It couldn't be any worse, could it?"
A spokeswoman for Clinton said Wednesday's report was "disturbing."
"These reports suggest that he lied on the debate stage and that the disgusting behavior he bragged about in the tape is more than just words," said Jennifer Palmieri, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign.
(Additional reporting by Emily Flitter, Jonathan Allen, Emily Stephenson, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Michelle Conlin, Eric Beech and Eric Walsh; Editing by Caren Bohan and Bill Rigby)