WASHINGTON ―Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said at Wednesday night’s debate that he never apologized to his wife, Melania Trump, after a number of women came forward to substantiate Trump’s own boasts of sexual misconduct.
Trump, during his final debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, brushed aside allegations from women who say he sexually assaulted them, and instead blamed Clinton’s “sleazy” campaign for spreading the stories.
“Those stories are all totally false, I have to say that,” Trump said. “I didn’t even apologize to my wife, who’s sitting right here, because I didn’t do anything.”
Days earlier, Melania Trump cast her husband in a more remorseful light. In an interview with Fox News ― her first since publication of the tape of Trump saying he can get away with grabbing women “by the pussy” ― she said her husband had apologized for the tape.
“Those words, they were offensive to me and they were inappropriate,” Melania Trump told Fox News. “And he apologized to me. And I expect ― I accept his apology. And we are moving on.”
Donald Trump has a long history of making misogynist comments about women, but until recently, his supporters have mostly shrugged them off as nothing more than proof he’s a man who appreciates women. But this month, a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced of Trump boasting that sexual consent doesn’t apply to him because he is famous.
The lewd recording prompted numerous women to come forward with firsthand accounts of experiences that substantiate Trump’s claims. More than a dozen women, including Trump’s ex-wife, have accused him of sexual advances, ranging from unwanted kissing to rape.
When asked on Wednesday about the allegations, Trump said the stories had been “largely debunked” and claimed, “I don’t know those people.”
The accusers include a journalist who interviewed Trump and alleged he forcibly kissed her while Melania Trump was in another room, an aspiring model who says he touched her vagina through her underwear at a club, and an “Apprentice” contestant who said he kissed her on the lips after she was interviewed for a job. A number of contestants for both the Miss Teen USA and the Miss USA pageants also have claimed that Trump intentionally walked into dressing rooms. (”I sort of get away with things like that,” he once told radio host Howard Stern.)
Clinton took the opportunity during the debate to repeat Trump’s past comments about women.
“He attacked the woman reporter writing the story, called her disgusting, as he has called a number of women during this campaign,” Clinton said. “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”
Trump has strongly denied the sexual assault allegations. He has claimed political motives and has personally attacked his accusers for their appearance or behavior. He suggested that Natasha Stoynoff, the former People magazine writer, wasn’t attractive enough for him to grope.
The Trump campaign also has sought to target Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, with sex allegations. Trump invited women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct to the second debate, and on Wednesday, an additional accuser came forward to Breitbart News, which is run by Trump’s campaign CEO.
Hillary Clinton is running for president ― not her husband. But she has stayed relatively quiet about the assault allegations against Trump, in part because of her role in standing by her husband.
“Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” Trump insisted Wednesday night. “Nobody.”
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.