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Women Who Accused President Trump Of Sexual Misconduct Want Congress To Investigate

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Several women who accused President Trump of sexual misconduct before he was elected held a news conference today to call on Congress to investigate the president's actions. Here is one of the women, Rachel Crooks, who says Trump kissed her on the lips when she was a young receptionist working in Trump Tower.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

RACHEL CROOKS: I want to believe that as Americans we can put aside our political inclinations and admit that some things in fact do transcend politics, that we will hold Mr. Trump to the same standard as Harvey Weinstein and the other men who were held accountable for their reprehensible behavior.

MCEVERS: Trump denies the allegations. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us now from the White House. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.

MCEVERS: The accusations against the president are not new, but they have resurfaced now since other prominent men in politics and media have fallen after similar claims. Is there any concern at the White House about this renewed focus on the president's accusers?

LIASSON: Not that I've detected. I think Russia investigation is a much bigger problem than these accusations. Today the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said the president thinks it's a good thing that women, generally speaking, are coming forward. But as for the specific accusations, he denies them. He says they're all false claims; in effect, the women are lying. Sanders also repeated that the voters knew about these accusations in the campaign, and they voted for Trump anyway.

MCEVERS: This weekend, a prominent member of the Trump administration, though, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, wasn't quite on the same page. How do you explain that?

LIASSON: Well, I would explain that by asking people to listen very carefully to Haley and learn how a good politician does it.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

LIASSON: Here is Haley on CBS's "Face The Nation." She said women, including those who've accused the president, should be heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

NIKKI HALEY: I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way - they have every right to speak up.

JOHN DICKERSON: And does the election mean that's a settled issue?

HALEY: You know, that's for the people to decide. I know that he was elected. But you know, women should always feel comfortable coming forward, and we should all be willing to listen to them.

LIASSON: This isn't the first time Haley has managed to distance herself from the White House, but she did it in a way where she didn't say she necessarily believed the women. That would have potentially angered the president, who said we shouldn't believe the woman. But she sounded sympathetic. And Nikki Haley has been very successful at separating herself just enough from Donald Trump to build her own political persona. And that is one of the many reasons why she is widely expected to be planning a presidential run of her own in the future.

MCEVERS: Democrats have chosen to deal with this issue of sexual harassment and misconduct differently than Republicans. We saw that in the forcing out of Senator Al Franken last week. What could this issue mean for Democrats politically?

LIASSON: Well, they think it's a great issue for them. Today Kirsten Gillibrand and other Democrats called on the president to resign. They felt they needed to get rid of Al Franken to be able to do that, to have the, quote, "moral high ground." But I think the Democratic strategy such as it is opens up a bunch of questions. What are the criteria for forcing somebody out of Congress? What are the standards? Is there any due process? How do you determine if an accusation is true or false? Who decides? Republicans, on the other hand - their line is, let the voters decide. Obviously Democrats disagree.

MCEVERS: Right. Speaking of that, tomorrow of course is the election in Alabama where one of the Senate candidates, Republican Roy Moore, has been accused of sexual misconduct himself. Trump and the Republican National Committee have said the voters should decide that. But is - there's still a split in the Republican Party about this, right?

LIASSON: There is still a split. And yesterday in a very big deal, Senator Shelby - Richard Shelby of Alabama - came out yesterday and said the state of Alabama deserves better than Roy Moore. He's supporting a write-in candidate. And Senator Shelby is not someone who goes on the Sunday shows unless he has something really important to say. So that was a big deal. That being said, the president is all-in for Roy Moore - campaigned for him, recorded a robocall. And Moore is still the slight favorite in that race.

MCEVERS: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.