CHARLOTTE, N.C./LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday charged that the women accusing him of sexual misconduct fabricated their stories to damage his campaign after two more women came forward with allegations that he had groped them.
The new accusations were made by a contestant on his reality TV show “The Apprentice,” who cited a 2007 incident, and by a woman who described an incident from the early 1990s.
With the allegations against Trump dominating the campaign, opinion polls show Trump trailing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll taken Oct. 7-13 and released on Friday showed Trump behind Clinton by 7 percentage points among likely voters in the Nov. 8 election.
Trump has spent more and more time at his rallies denying allegations of groping since a video from 2005 became public a week ago showing him bragging about groping and making unwanted sexual advances. On Friday, in addition to his denials, he suggested that he never would have found two of the women who have made allegations attractive.
Summer Zervos, who competed on the fifth season of “The Apprentice” in 2006, appeared at a news conference with celebrity attorney Gloria Allred in Los Angeles, saying Trump kissed her, touched her breast and tried to get her to lie down on a bed with him during a meeting about a possible job.
“He put me in an embrace and I tried to push him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us and I said, ‘Come on man, get real.’ He repeated my words back to me, ‘Get real,’ as he began thrusting his genitals,” Zervos said.
Zervos said she thought Trump was going to take her to dinner to discuss a job, but the meeting took place in his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“I wondered if the sexual behaviour was some kind of test and whether or not I had passed” by rejecting it, she said, but Trump later offered her a job at a golf course for half the salary she had requested.
Trump released a statement denying her allegations.
“I vaguely remember Ms. Zervos as one of the many contestants on ‘The Apprentice’ over the years. To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago,” Trump said. “That is not who I am as a person, and it is not how I’ve conducted my life.”
At his last event of the day on Friday, in Charlotte, Trump suggested that his accusers were fabricating their stories for publicity or to damage his campaign. “It’s not hard to find a small handful of people willing to make false smears,” he said.
Trump said the women may be motivated for financial reasons or political reasons or “the simple reason they want to stop our movement.”
Earlier Friday, the Washington Post published an interview with a woman who said Trump put his hand up her skirt in a crowded New York nightclub in the early 1990s in an unwanted advance.
“He did touch my vagina through my underwear, absolutely,” Kristin Anderson said in a video interview on the newspaper’s website. “It wasn’t a sexual come-on. I don’t know why he did it. It was like just to prove that he could do it,” she told the newspaper. Anderson could not be reached for comment.
Trump’s White House campaign has been scrambling to recover from the release a week ago of the 2005 video. While Trump said the video was just talk and he had never behaved in that way, several women subsequently went public with allegations of sexual misconduct against the New York real estate magnate going back three decades.
National opinion polls have shown that women voters have been fleeing Trump in large numbers, putting his campaign in free-fall.
Late on Friday, the Trump campaign put forward a British man who disputed the account of one of the accusers, Jessica Leeds.
Leeds, who is now 74, said Trump groped her on a flight to New York, in or around 1980. Her account was published in The New York Times earlier this week and she has since been interviewed on CNN.
The New York Post reported that the man, Anthony Gilberthorpe, contacted the Trump campaign after Leeds went public with her story, and said he was sitting near Leeds and Trump in first class on the same flight.
“I was there, I was in a position to know that what she said was wrong, wrong, wrong,” said Gilberthorpe, who is now 54 and would have been a teenager at the time.
Trump had been promising that he would soon provide information showing the allegations against him were false.
Gilberthorpe is known in Britain for his claims that he provided underage boys to British politicians for sex parties in the 1980s.
Trump, 70, mocked Leeds on Friday. “Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” he said.
He called Natasha Stoynoff, a reporter who wrote in People magazine that Trump kissed her and pinned her against a wall, a “liar” and told the rally to “check out her Facebook page, you’ll understand.”
“TAKE THE HIGH GROUND”
Many Republicans have sought to distance themselves from Trump. The most senior of them, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, angered Trump when he announced this week he would no longer campaign for Trump or defend him but would focus on trying to preserve the Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate in the election.
Ryan gave a campaign speech in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday without mentioning Trump’s name once. He urged college students to look beyond the “ugliness” of the presidential campaign to focus on issues such as tax and healthcare reform.
“The kind of election we really want to have, it’s not the one we’re necessarily having right now,” Ryan said, urging students to “take the high ground.”
Trump on Friday also accused Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the top shareholder in The New York Times Company (NYT.N), of helping to generate the reports of sexual misconduct.
He said Slim, as a donor to the Clinton Foundation charity and who holds a 17.35 percent stake in the Times, has an interest in helping Clinton’s White House campaign.
Arturo Elias, Slim’s spokesman and son-in-law, said Slim had “absolutely no contact” with the newspaper’s reporters or editors on their Trump campaign coverage and “zero” contact with the paper’s news operations.
New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in a statement, “Carlos Slim is an excellent shareholder who fully respects boundaries regarding the independence of our journalism. He has never sought to influence what we report.”
Trump’s allegation about Slim was the latest chapter in a running series of skirmishes he has had with Mexico and Mexicans.
Trump kicked off his campaign last year accusing Mexico of sending rapists and drug dealers to the United States, and promised to build a wall along the southern U.S. border and said he would make Mexico pay for.
Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson, Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Michael O'Boyle, Anna Driver, Jessica Toonkel, Jeff Mason, Timothy Gardner; Writing by James Oliphant, Roberta Rampton, and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler