Donald Trump, under fire for lewd comments he made in 2005 about groping women, offered a perfunctory apology in which after saying “I’m sorry,” he immediately shifted the focus to the alleged past offenses of Bill Clinton, seeming to guarantee a plan to drag Sunday night’s second presidential debate into the gutter.
In a brief video that was released after midnight on Saturday, the Republican presidential nominee referred to the recording of him talking about grabbing a woman’s genitals as a “10-year-old video” and said his comments on the tape “don’t reflect who I am.”
Trump’s apology came several hours after the Washington Post published a clip from 2005 with audio of him discussing his efforts to “try and f***” a married woman and boasting that he subjected women to uninvited kisses and “grab[bed] them by the p****,” because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” The audio was recorded when Trump filmed a segment with the show “Access Hollywood.”
After expressing regret for his remarks, Trump quickly turned his focus to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Trump concluded his statement by hinting very strongly that he will make attacking the Clintons for past sex scandals a centerpiece of his debate appearance on Sunday evening.
“I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday,” Trump said in the video.
On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted out a Breitbart News interview with Juanita Broaddrick, who publicly claimed in 1999 that the former president had raped her in 1978. Breitbart, a conservative news website, has been closely aligned with Trump’s campaign. Clinton’s lawyer called Broaddrick’s allegations “absolutely false.”
EXCLUSIVE — Video Interview: Bill Clinton Accuser Juanita Broaddrick Relives Brutal Rapes:https://t.co/9j7f8VK9Md
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2016
He soon followed that tweet with another:
Exclusive Video–Broaddrick, Willey, Jones to Bill's Defenders: ‘These Are Crimes,’ ‘Terrified’ of ‘Enabler’ Hillary https://t.co/DMfLsIbtU1
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2016
Also on Sunday morning, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a close Trump adviser who has been with the GOP nominee since the scandal broke, hinted on “Meet the Press” that Trump might bring up Bill Clinton’s scandals at the debate and connect them to the Democratic nominee.
“I believe he will not bring up Bill Clinton’s personal life. I do believe there’s a possibility he’ll talk about Hillary Clinton’s situation, if it gets to that. I don’t think he prefers to do that,” Giuliani said.
Giuliani then implied that Hillary Clinton had a “role as the attacker” against her husband’s alleged victims. And on ABC’s “This Week,” the former mayor said Trump might bring up Bill Clinton’s personal infidelities depending on “how the debate goes.”
— ABC News (@ABC) October 9, 2016
Trump has toyed publicly on several other occasions with bringing up sordid aspects of Bill Clinton’s past. After the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, Trump praised himself for not bringing up President Clinton’s infidelities almost immediately after he walked into the spin room and began talking with reporters. Trump declared that he held back because he knew the Clintons’ daughter, Chelsea, was at the debate.
President Clinton has admitted to conducting multiple affairs during his marriage. The New York Times recently published an article chronicling the ways in which Hillary Clinton encouraged and oversaw efforts in the 1990s to sully the reputation of women who publicly claimed to have had affairs with her husband.
Trump’s performance in the first debate was widely panned, and his standing suffered in the polls. Leading up to the second debate, which will take place in St. Louis, members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign suggested they thought bringing up the dirty laundry would be a bad move for Trump.
“I don’t think it’s a smart strategy for Donald Trump to come after her with these kinds of personal attacks,” Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters this past week.
Mook was responding to Trump’s prior threat to invite one of President Clinton’s former paramours to the first debate. Mook further said he didn’t believe the real estate tycoon would bring up anything “salacious.”
“We do not necessarily expect him to come with the kind of personal and harsh attacks that he has been threatening,” Mook told reporters again Thursday. “We expect a more focused, prepared Trump at this debate.”
But if anything could prod Trump into bringing up President Clinton’s sex scandals, it might be the Clinton campaign’s telling him not to, which it has done several times in the past week. And Trump’s Sunday tweets are clear evidence that the GOP nominee is already looking at that line of attack.
Before the firestorm over Trump’s comments about trying to “f***” and “grab” women, Republican consultant Liz Mair told Yahoo News the Clinton campaign was likely trying to goad Trump.
“The Clinton folks probably do think they’re baiting him, or are hoping so, but the reality is that baiting or not, Trump is very likely to walk into this trap anyway,” said Mair, who ran a super-PAC opposing Trump. “Self-immolation on live TV: It’s what he does.”
Conventional wisdom ahead of Trump’s latest controversy was that making sex-scandal-based attacks would be a disastrous tactic, especially given Hillary Clinton’s role as the aggrieved spouse. Trump’s resurfaced remarks would make the move even riskier. But his inner circle seemed divided about how to proceed.
Last month, Trump came from behind in the polls after adopting what his campaign called a “more disciplined” approach and talking about policy issues. He has since slipped. Following the vice presidential debate last Tuesday, Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, indicated a clear preference for how her candidate should behave.
“I do appreciate when he talks about the issues,” Conway said after the vice presidential debate. She was set to appear on the Sunday morning news shows as a Trump surrogate but was replaced by Giuliani.
Yet Trump is at his most unpredictable when he is cornered. And so the revelation of the sexually aggressive behavior he bragged about in the 2005 video may have made it more likely that he will get down in the mud during the debate.
Trump came under intense, and unprecedented, criticism from members of his own political party Friday evening after his comments were reported. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker both insisted that Trump back out of a scheduled appearance with them in their home state on Saturday, according to news reports. Two different sources told Yahoo News earlier Friday that Ryan and his advisers were not happy about Trump’s appearance in Wisconsin and that it was not their idea. Ryan said in a statement late Friday that he was “sickened” by Trump’s comments in the video.
While Ryan and some other notable Republicans maintained their endorsement of Trump, an increasing number of Republicans have withdrawn theirs. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, was the first sitting congressman to unendorse Trump. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, did the same. A slew of Republican governors, senators and House members have even called on Trump to drop out of the race.
Trump, in his statement, attempted to downplay his 2005 comments by saying they were “nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we’re facing today.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, took great offense at that remark and, with his voice rising, spoke directly to Trump in his own Facebook video: “With all due respect, sir — you, sir, are the distraction. Your conduct, sir, is the distraction … from the very principles that will help us win in November,” Lee said. “I respectfully ask you, with all due respect, to step aside. Step down.”
The political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also called on Trump to exit the race. Some Trump critics called on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to withdraw from his place on Trump’s ticket as vice presidential nominee.
Pence was scheduled to appear in Trump’s place at the Wisconsin event with Ryan and Walker. Trump issued a statement saying he would be spending the time preparing for the debate. Pence then pulled out of the same event.
For his part, Trump has fired back at his GOP critics and insisted that he would never drop out of the race:
The media and establishment want me out of the race so badly – I WILL NEVER DROP OUT OF THE RACE, WILL NEVER LET MY SUPPORTERS DOWN! #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 8, 2016
This post was updated at 2:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 9. Colin Campbell contributed.