CNN anchor Anderson Cooper's first question at Sunday night's presidential debate was, not surprisingly, about the just-released lewd 2005 recording of Donald Trump boasting of being able to force himself on women. Cooper looked up at the billionaire Republican nominee: "You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?"
After Trump circled around the question by calling the exchange "locker-room talk," the CNN moderator had his follow-up question ready:
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 grope women without consent?
TRUMP: I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.
COOPER: So for the record, you're saying you never did that?
TRUMP: I've said things that, frankly, you hear these things I said. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women —
COOPER: — Have you ever done those things?
TRUMP: — And they have respect for me. And I will tell you: No I have not ...
"No I have not" is the key phrase, which Trump finally added with the tone of an afterthought. But in front of 66 million viewers, it was definitely for the record.
In the past 18 hours, reports from The New York Times, The Tampa Bay Times and People magazine, as well as a post on Facebook, recount incidents that would make Trump guilty of both sexual assault, and lying in front of 66 million people. Several of the accusers have said that Trump's explicit denial of such behavior in the debate prompted them to finally go public with their stories, adding to a growing national accounting for the prevalence of sexual assault in American society that began with Friday's revelation of Trump's offensive 2005 conversation.
As his campaign appears to be imploding in a way that may be unprecedented in American politics, the candidate is furiously denying all the latest accounts, and threatening to sue the newspapers that have published them. Will that lead to others? This is, as we say in the news business, a developing story — and how it plays out is about more than just the race for the White House.
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