Donald Trump defends himself against sexual assault accusers

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina -- During Donald Trump’s second rally of the day, he announced dramatically to the crowd that his teleprompter – that he had uncharacteristically relied on for months – had stopped working.

“And I notice every time I look up, they’re trying. It’s trying. It’s straining. It’s straining. Hey, get this thing out of here, will you?” Trump explained.

He physically removed the device that had been telling him what to say and proceeded to speak for nearly an hour – veering from topic to topic, in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner. It was a rally reminiscent of the barn-burning campaign he ran in the fall.

“You know what? I like it better without the teleprompters,” Trump declared.

Trump acknowledged earlier in the day that those around him did not want him to spend a bulk of his speeches responding to the numerous accusations of sexual misconduct that have risen in recent days and weeks.

“Folks, you know my people always say, ‘Oh, don’t talk about it. Talk about jobs. Talk about the economy,’”  Trump said in Greensboro, North Carolina earlier in the day. “But I feel I have to talk about it, because you have to dispute when somebody says something, and fortunately we have the microphone. We’re able to dispute. Some people can’t.”

And dispute he did. At one point, Trump implied that Jessica Leeds, who has accused Trump of improper sexual contact on an airplane more than 30 years ago, was not physically attractive enough for him to touch.

“Yeah. I’m gonna go after – believe me -- she would not be my first choice,” Trump said. “That I can tell you. Man. We don’t know. That would not be my first choice.”

Then he blamed Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, a shareholder in the New York Times, for conspiring to meddle in the United States presidential election – a charge without evidence. He suggested multiple times throughout the day that the accusers are benefiting financially by going after him. 

A spokesman for Slim, however, denied the accusation. “He doesn’t know him. He’s never met him in any way,” the spokesman told CNBC. “He doesn’t know anything about his personal life and, to be honest, he doesn’t care about his personal life.” 

Most of all, Trump said, it was Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, who was behind all the accusations.

“After many, many years, even many decades, without complaint, the media and the Clinton campaign have brought forward false allegations less than a month before the most important election in modern times,” Trump said in Charlotte. “These allegations are 100 percent false as everybody I think -- you know. I think you get it. I think you get it. They’re made up. They never happened.”

Even while Trump was denying the stream of allegations that have come forth, new ones surfaced during the day. Summer Zervos, a contestant on the fifth season of “The Apprentice,” held a press conference alongside celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred, claiming more sexual misconduct by the Republican nominee.

In response, Trump vigorously denied the accusations, complaining, “When Gloria Allred is given the same weighting on national television as the president of the United States, and unfounded accusations are treated as fact, with reporters throwing due diligence and fact-finding to the side in a rush to file their stories first, it’s evident that we truly are living in a broken system.”

Trump’s Friday also illustrated multiple splits with his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. On multiple morning show interviews, Pence defended Trump and said evidence was coming within hours to disprove accusers.

Asked if she could provide the evidence promised by Pence, Trump press secretary Hope Hicks said by phone, “I didn’t say that. Governor Pence did. I will let you know when we have more information.”

The more information turned out to be a New York Post interview with a witness, provided by the campaign. A British man named Anthony Gilberthorpe claimed that he was on the same flight as Jessica Leeds, and said that the alleged groping never happened. Gilberthorpe also said that Leeds was “shrill,” “very much in your face” and “wanted to marry [Trump].” She allegedly said this to Gilberthorpe when Trump went to the bathroom on this flight – more than thirty years ago.

Gilberthorpe had no evidence to back this up but told the New York Post that he has a photographic memory.

Trump’s response to his multiple accusers was expectedly caustic.  One of them, Mindy McGillivray of Palm Springs, who accused Trump of groping her in 2003 at Mar-a-Lago, told the Palm Beach Post that she was going to leave the country.

“We feel the backlash of the Trump supporters. It scares us. It intimidates us. We are in fear of our lives,’’ she said.

In Charlotte, Trump tried to reassure his supporters that his standing with women was strong. He brought on stage some of his most prominent female supporters, including spokesperson Katrina Pierson and “Diamond and Silk” – a duo that has become famous among Trump supporters for YouTube videos promoting Trump.  

Whether the business mogul will continue spending large chunks of his speeches discussing  the sexual assault allegations remains to be seen. He has, for months, branded himself a “counterpuncher,” even as he claimed he wants to get back to issues.

“And I’m not going to be talking about it much, because we want to talk about other things and we have to talk about other things,” Trump said in Charlotte. “But if it affects five percent, or two percent or 10 percent or -- it’s all false stuff. It’s all a concerted effort. And I think it’s the only way they’re going to stop us. The only way, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”