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After Making Allegations Against Trump, One Woman Speaks Out Post-Weinstein

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

One powerful man after another has been fired or resigned in the last few weeks after allegations of sexual misconduct. Today, Democrat John Conyers, the longest-serving member in the U.S. House of Representatives, announced his retirement after multiple accusations against him. But one very powerful man still has his job despite the fact that more than a dozen women have accused him of sexual harassment and assault - President Donald Trump. Many of his accusers told their stories during the campaign and watched him become president anyway and then heard him say many times that their stories are lies and nonsense.

We wondered what it's like to be one of these women, so we reached out to Jessica Leeds. She was sitting next to Trump on a plane in the early '80s, and she says he groped her and tried to put his hand up her skirt.

JESSICA LEEDS: I started telling my story to everybody who would stand to listen for it when I realized Trump was serious about running for president. And so that was about a year before the election. And I told everybody. I told friends. I told neighbors. I told my book club. I told anybody who would listen for it.

And for the most part, everybody believed me. There were times when I would get a look or something like that that I knew that they really didn't believe me. And I understood that because it had happened so long ago. But what transpired was - during the debates when Anderson Cooper asked Trump point-blank, have you ever groped a woman, and he tried to talk about Syria...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I hate it. But it's locker-room talk. And it's one of those things. I will knock the hell out of ISIS...

LEEDS: But Anderson didn't let them off the hook. He re-asked the question

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANDERSON COOPER: Just for the record, though, are you saying that what you said on that bus 11 years ago - that you did not actually kiss women without consent or groped women without consent?

TRUMP: I have great respect for women.

LEEDS: And Trump said no.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COOPER: Have you ever done those things?

TRUMP: And women have respect for me. And I will tell you, no, I have not.

LEEDS: Well, I found myself on my feet, yelling at the TV set, which was very useful.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

LEEDS: And I didn't sleep that night at all. And I got up the next morning, and my email was just lit up like a Christmas tree from all my friends and acquaintances saying, you got to say something; you've got to say something. And I sat down, and I fired off a letter. I came home after about two hours. And The New York Times, where I had sent my letter, was on the phone. And that then started a day that was somewhat bizarre for a person who's not in the world of fame. And then they printed the story with my picture on the front page of The Times.

Now, for a kid from Missouri, this was - holy cow. This was really something else. So it's all been quite fascinating and illuminating and sad all at the same time. And we're still - it didn't change anything.

MCEVERS: Yeah. I was going to say, why sad? I mean, did you think at the time that something was going to come of it?

LEEDS: No.

MCEVERS: No - at the time.

LEEDS: No, I really didn't. So when the other women came forward - and I'd like to point out these stories that the other women have told are carbon copies of each other. And we've had no contact with each other. So you know, it's his M.O. And I think that speaks volumes to the authenticity of their experience.

MCEVERS: You've since talked to some of the other women who've come forward with allegations against President Trump. Like you said you weren't in contact at the time.

LEEDS: No.

MCEVERS: But you've since - so tell us about that.

LEEDS: Well, following the news story, there were two emails that were forwarded to me by The Times. And then it was just about two weeks ago or a week ago. One of the other ladies called me, and we talked for a while. But that's been it.

MCEVERS: And what are those conversations like?

LEEDS: It is expressing their disappointment that by exposing themselves, they've run into a lot of criticism from their community and their families.

MCEVERS: Has that been your experience?

LEEDS: I live in a New York bubble. When it first happened, people came up to me - women, for the most part, but a few men - and they all said the exact same thing. It was really kind of spooky. They said, thank you, and, you're so brave. Well, I never felt any fear, so feeling brave just doesn't cover. But it was - as I said, I felt sad and disappointed that it didn't affect the election.

MCEVERS: After the election of course were the reports about Harvey Weinstein and all of the reports that followed. I mean, some people are calling it a moment, but it feels a lot bigger than a moment. What do you think about it as these stories come out? You know, it seems like almost every day there's one - a new story of allegations against a powerful man and a powerful man resigning or being fired.

LEEDS: I have sort of come to the conclusion that any man who holds a job of importance or authority - a lot of them are waking up at 4 o'clock in the morning wondering when the shoe is going to drop on them. But some of these men have a very strong capacity to not ignore but compartmentalize what they've done and why they've done it. If I can make an observation here - during this year, right at the beginning, there were - people would come up to me with their stories. And then after the Weinstein story broke, it started again with people coming up to me, recognizing me and talking to me.

And another conclusion I've come to is that women or the victim here remember in great detail. Even if they were 8 years old, they remember when it happened, who it happened with, how they got out of it. And they all went home or got out and never told anybody. And a lot of them talked about taking their clothes and throwing them away. And I just don't think that men have any comprehension of the psychological damage that they're doing when they're just scratching an itch.

MCEVERS: And just - you know, you talked about early on yelling at the TV.

LEEDS: Yes.

MCEVERS: And you know, it just makes me wonder. Has there been any time throughout this process where you felt like that again, you know, when the Harvey Weinstein story broke or even recently when the president said maybe it wasn't me on that "Access Hollywood" tape?

LEEDS: I get mad every time I listen to somebody's story. And as I said, I've heard a lot of stories. I've done a lot of talking. I've been interviewed by a lot of people. And about halfway through the media scrum, I realized that it was all about me. So I started taking the time to ask the reporter, well, you know, what's your story? And everybody's got a story. And that just gives me cold chills. So I'm not an angry person, but this is - makes me angry.

MCEVERS: Jessica Leeds, a recently retired stockbroker in New York City, thanks again.

LEEDS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF AXEL BOMAN'S "IN THE DUST OF THIS PLANET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.