In a stunningly brazen move, Donald Trump met publicly on Sunday night with several women who have accused Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual advances and even rape, shortly before the Republican presidential nominee was stepping on the debate stage with the former president’s wife, Hillary Clinton.
Bill Clinton never faced any criminal charges in relation to the allegations, and a lawsuit over an alleged rape was dismissed. He did settle a lawsuit with one of the women who claimed harassment.
The Trump pre-debate event was the clearest sign yet that he planned to use the former president’s sexual history to try to distract from the swirling controversy over his own predatory remarks about women. Trump is under enormous pressure from the Republican Party after the release of a 2005 video in which the businessman can be heard saying his fame allows him to “do anything” to women.
Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s communications director, said she wasn’t surprised to see Trump “continue his destructive race to the bottom.” She said the Democratic nominee was “prepared to handle whatever Donald Trump throws her way” on the debate stage.
Trump refused to answer questions from reporters about his own aggressive sexual remarks about women during the meeting in a hotel conference room with Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey. Kathy Shelton, a fourth woman who appeared with Trump, was a 12-year-old Arkansas sexual assault victim whose alleged assailant was defended by Hillary Clinton.
Some of the women seated alongside him, however, were graphic in their accusations against the Clintons.
“Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me,” Broaddrick said. “I don’t think there’s any comparison.”
Broaddrick, a former Arkansas nursing home administrator, first claimed 17 years ago that Bill Clinton raped her during a meeting in Little Rock in 1978. Her lawsuit against him was dismissed in 2001 and criminal charges were never filed. Clinton has denied the allegations.
Trump’s stunt set up an extraordinary scene in the debate hall. His campaign said all four women planned to attend the event, with Bill Clinton also expected to be present.
Trump is trying to change the subject from his own conduct. Even before Friday’s new revelations of his sexual remarks about women, his campaign was slumping. But the release of the 2005 video has some leading Republicans convinced the damage is insurmountable.
Even Trump’s most loyal supporters struggled to defend him on Sunday.