Trump injects Bill Clinton’s accusers into campaign
St. Louis — Presidential candidates usually reserve hard-to-get debate seats for their closest allies, donors and friends.
At Sunday night’s debate, Donald Trump brought three women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault and a fourth woman whose rapist got a reduced sentence four decades ago thanks to his attorney at the time, Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic rival.
After the debate, Bill Clinton’s accusers, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Paula Jones, headed to the media spin room to give interviews and effectively act as representatives of the Trump campaign.
It was the latest, unexpected twist in an increasingly bitter and personal fight for the White House. Trump, a former reality television star, brought the Clinton accusers to the debate two days after a video recording surfaced of him boasting to a television host in 2005 that he can use his fame to kiss women and grab them by their genitalia without their consent.
Aaron Kall, director of debate at the University of Michigan, said Trump’s attempt to put the focus of sex abuse back on Bill Clinton was “much more effective than a lot of people predicted.”
“Because Trump was able to levy the charges as a counter puncher, I think that helped,” Kall said. “He clearly had it rehearsed. I thought it was pretty effective. And now for the next several days, I think we’re going to be talking about those charges instead of his comments from 2005.”
But Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told The Detroit News after the debate that Trump’s antics won’t reverse his downward slide in battleground state polls.
“I think he seemed sort of incoherent at times and I think that if he needed to change the trajectory of the race today, he didn’t do it,” Podesta added.
But the Bill Clinton accusers pressed their points after the debate.
“Hillary Clinton’s called us every name under the sun,” Willey told reporters. “The real reason I am here is the mainstream media keeps referring to Bill Clinton’s problems as infidelities. Sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment are not infidelities. They are crimes, and they are felonies.”
Willey accused Bill Clinton of assaulting her in 1993 in the Oval Office while she was a White House volunteer aide. Clinton denied the allegations and an investigation was inconclusive.
“She enabled his behavior,” Willey said of Hillary Clinton. “How does she enable him? Because she doesn’t do anything about what he does.”
Clinton aides insisted after the debate the former secretary of state was not rattled by Trump’s use of her husband’s past accusers.
“I think the whole intent was to throw Hillary Clinton off of her game, ... and be a distraction to that video,” said Amanda Renteria, national political director of Clinton’s campaign, in an interview with The Detroit News.
“And frankly what you saw tonight is he had no answer for that except that it’s ‘locker room talk.’ And that’s just not true. There are too many men, respectful men and boys out there, that recognize that you treat women with dignity and respect.”
Renteria added: “If this is a distraction away from, I don’t think anybody’s going to be fooled by that.”
Willey said she didn’t feel Trump was using her to distract from his lewd comments women in 2005 when he didn’t know a camera was recording his conversation with “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush.
“If I felt that way, I wouldn’t be here,” Willey said.
Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson acknowledged the campaign strategically interjected Bill Clinton’s accusers into the debate.
“Hillary Clinton has really tried to make this campaign about women,” Pierson said after the debate. “So Mr. Trump responded in kind. These women have not had their voices heard. They have very serious concerns about grievances and now the public is aware.”
Before the debate, Trump’s campaign hastily staged a press conference to let Broaddrick, Willey, Jones and Kathy Shelton make statements to reporters about decades-old Clinton sex scandals. Trump sat in between the women and didn’t answer reporters’ questions about whether he has ever kissed or fondled women without their permission.
“He came in here with the stunt at the beginning to try and rattle her and he clearly didn’t do that,” Podesta said after the debate. “She came in here wanting to talk to the American people about what their future was like and what she could do for them, talked specific policies. I think she accomplished her goal.”