Donald Trump calls sex assault accusers 'horrible, horrible liars'
'We can't expose our children to this any longer,' Michelle Obama says
Rocked by allegations of sexual assault, Donald Trump on Thursday lashed out at his female accusers as "horrible, horrible liars" as the deeply divisive presidential campaign sank further into charges and countercharges of predatory treatment of women.
The Republican businessman devoted much of a Florida speech to defending himself against multiple reports of inappropriate sexual behavior — accusations that he blamed on Hillary Clinton's campaign and the news media.
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"These vicious claims about me, of inappropriate conduct with women, are totally and absolutely false. And the Clintons know it," Trump declared. His accusers, he said, "are horrible people. They're horrible, horrible liars."
The comments came minutes after he called a reporter "a sleazebag" for asking whether Trump had ever touched or groped a woman without her consent.
Times stands by story
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported stories about women who alleged Trump had inappropriately touched them.
One woman, Jessica Leeds, appeared on camera on the Times' website to recount how Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt on a flight from the Midwest to New York in or around 1980.
The second woman, Rachel Crooks, described how Trump kissed her "directly on the mouth" in an unwanted advance in 2005 outside the elevator in Trump Tower in Manhattan, where she was a receptionist at a real estate firm.
On Wednesday night, Trump's campaign made public a letter to the newspaper from a lawyer representing Trump, demanding it retract the story, calling it libellous, 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, co-ordinated 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.
The New York Times said Thursday it stood by its story, rejecting the claims that the article was libellous.
"Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself," said David McCraw, vice-president and assistant general counsel for the newspaper, in a letter to Trump's lawyer.
If Trump believes that the story was libellous, "we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight," McCraw said.
Other stories emerge
Separately, a Canadian woman and People magazine reporter wrote a detailed first-person account of being attacked by Trump while interviewing him for a story on the businessman and his wife, Melania Trump.
Natasha Stoynoff, who worked for two Toronto newspapers before moving to the U.S., 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," she said.
Trump, 70, denied the People story in a tweet and during a rally speech in Florida.
"I ask her a simple question: Why wasn't it part of the story that appeared 12 years ago? Why didn't they make it part of the story ... if she had added that, it would have been the headline."
"Look at her and look at her words," he said. "You tell me what you think. I don't think so."
The Palm Beach Post reported another allegation by Mindy McGillivray, a 36-year-old South Florida woman who said 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.
At his rally in Florida on Thursday, Trump said he had been prepared for attacks, but "I never knew it would be this vile, that it would be this bad, that it would be this vicious."
He said the "corrupt political establishment," which he said included special interest groups, was trying to stop him so it could carry out a program of "radical globalization and the disenfranchisement of working people."
"Our great civilization, here in America and across the civilized world, has come upon a moment of reckoning," he said.
Trump said the claims "are all fabricated."
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"They're pure fiction, and they're outright lies. These events never happened," he said at the West Palm Beach rally.
He added: "I will not allow the Clinton machine to turn our campaign into a discussion of their slanders and lies."
At the same time, Trump's flailing campaign signalled it would spend the election's final month relitigating Bill Clinton's marital affairs and unproven charges of sexual assault, as well as what Trump says is Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's role in intimidating the women who were involved.
Press freedom threatened, watchdog says
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists has declared Trump a threat to press freedom.
In a statement issued Thursday, the media watchdog said that it issued the statement, unprecedented in the organization's 35-year history, because the Republican nominee has consistently betrayed First Amendment values.
"A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States, but the consequences for the rights of journalists around the world could be far more serious," CPJ chair Sandra Mims Rowe wrote in the statement. "Any failure of the United States to uphold its own standards emboldens dictators and despots to restrict the media in their own country."
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The group said it was not picking sides in the election but rather, "recognizing that a Trump presidency represents a threat to press freedom unknown in modern history."
Thursday's developments come less than a week after the publication of a 2005 recording in which the Republican nominee boasted of using his fame to kiss and grab women without their consent.
The revelation prompted many Republicans to withdraw their support for Trump — with some calling for him to drop out of the race — though a handful have since switched back to supporting him.
With files from Reuters and The Canadian Press