The damned news keeps breaking, not that the news media is broken. They’re doing just fine, and it was a quiet Wednesday evening here in Los Angeles. Things in the presidential race had seemed to settle where they were going to stay settled for a day or two. The second presidential debate was in the books. Trump said he won. No polling showed that but he is who he is – he says things like that – and now Trump is fighting on two fronts, against Clinton and against the core of the Republican Party, even if he is the party’s candidate. He’s feuding with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who never liked Trump much and now won’t defend him or campaign with him. Ryan wants to keep the Republican majority in the House, and in the Senate. He told Republican candidates to do what they must to win – denounce Trump or embrace him, depending on the district or state. It’s every man for himself, and thus for the party. Trump was outraged. He had been disrespected. His folks were outraged because he had been disrespected. This is tearing the party apart – there are a lot of those Trump folks – but that’s now an ongoing story. Stories like that have “developments” in an established narrative. Any breaking news breaks softly.
It’s the same with the polls. Clinton is surging. Trump is sinking. Red states are turning blue. Utah is now in play. Georgia may be next. Political observers watch the paint dry. Barring some earth-shattering event, this election is over. Political reporters now report variations on a theme. Political junkies follow such things. Everyone else can relax.
Everyone else can take the day off, except on this particular quiet Wednesday evening, the New York Times blew everything up:
Donald J. Trump was emphatic in the second presidential debate: Yes, he had boasted about kissing women without permission and grabbing their genitals. But he had never actually done those things, he said.
“No,” he declared under questioning on Sunday evening, “I have not.”
He really shouldn’t have said that:
At that moment, sitting at home in Manhattan, Jessica Leeds, 74, felt he was lying to her face. “I wanted to punch the screen,” she said in an interview in her apartment.
More than three decades ago, when she was a traveling businesswoman at a paper company, Ms. Leeds said, she sat beside Mr. Trump in the first-class cabin of a flight to New York. They had never met before.
About 45 minutes after takeoff, she recalled, Mr. Trump lifted the armrest and began to touch her.
According to Ms. Leeds, Mr. Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.
“He was like an octopus,” she said. “His hands were everywhere.”
She fled to the back of the plane. “It was an assault,” she said.
The New York Times confirmed the story:
Ms. Leeds has told the story to at least four people close to her, who also spoke with The New York Times.
There’s corroboration, and another story:
Mr. Trump’s claim that his crude words had never turned into actions was similarly infuriating to a woman watching on Sunday night in Ohio: Rachel Crooks.
Ms. Crooks was a 22-year-old receptionist at Bayrock Group, a real estate investment and development company in Trump Tower in Manhattan, when she encountered Mr. Trump outside an elevator in the building one morning in 2005.
Aware that her company did business with Mr. Trump, she turned and introduced herself. They shook hands, but Mr. Trump would not let go, she said. Instead, he began kissing her cheeks. Then, she said, he “kissed me directly on the mouth.”
It didn’t feel like an accident, she said. It felt like a violation.
“It was so inappropriate,” Ms. Crooks recalled in an interview. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.”
And there was corroboration here too:
Shaken, Ms. Crooks returned to her desk and immediately called her sister, Brianne Webb, in the small town in Ohio where they grew up, and told her what had happened.
“She was very worked up about it,” said Ms. Webb, who recalled pressing her sister for details.
The Times is careful to check with those who, at the time, also knew about such events, but perhaps Donald Trump didn’t understand that:
In a phone interview on Tuesday night, a highly agitated Mr. Trump denied every one of the women’s claims.
“None of this ever took place,” said Mr. Trump, who began shouting at the Times reporter who was questioning him. He said that The Times was making up the allegations to hurt him and that he would sue the news organization if it reported them.
“You are a disgusting human being,” he told the reporter as she questioned him about the women’s claims.
He was lashing out, on the record, but name-calling is not effective argument, and he had more worries within the hour:
Four women accused Donald Trump of groping or kissing them without their consent in news reports published Wednesday, just days after the Republican presidential nominee insisted in a debate that he had never engaged in such behavior.
One of the women alleges that Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt during a flight more than three decades ago, the New York Times reported. Another says he kissed her on the mouth outside an elevator in 2005, according to the same report. A third woman says Trump groped her rear end at his Mar-a-Lago resort 13 years ago, the Palm Beach Post reported. The fourth, then a People magazine reporter, says Trump kissed her without her assent when the two were alone in 2005 right before an interview she was about to conduct with Trump and his wife.
The two suddenly became four, and more will no doubt come out to tell their tales, so something had to be done:
Trump denied the first two allegations in an interview with the Times. Trump, who was in Miami Wednesday, was considering filing a lawsuit against the Times and was consulting with advisers about his legal options, according to two people close to him. The two people, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Trump is furious about the accusations made against him in the story and with the newspaper for publishing them.
In a statement issued by his campaign after the Times report was published, spokesman Jason Miller said, “This entire article is fiction.” Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Palm Beach Post “there is no truth” to the third allegation. His campaign denied the fourth allegation, People reported.
But in each of the first three instances, the newspapers spoke to people close to the women – a universe that includes friends, family members, significant others and colleagues – who verified that they told them their stories about what they say happened months or years ago. In the fourth, the reporter wrote a detailed-first person account of what she says happened on People’s website.
That lawsuit should be interesting, and add this:
Also Wednesday, Rolling Stone published a story that included the allegations of Cassandra Searles, Miss Washington 2013. In a comment she appended to a post she had put on Facebook earlier this year suggesting that Trump treated pageant contestants “like cattle,” Searles wrote, “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.” Yahoo covered her post and comment in June.
These things mount up, and this was next:
Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, said the reports show Trump lied on the debate stage on Sunday.
“This disturbing story sadly fits everything we know about the way Donald Trump has treated women. These reports suggest that he lied on the debate stage and that the disgusting behavior he bragged about in the tape is more than just words,” Palmieri said in a statement Wednesday night.
Oh yeah, there was also that ten-year-old little sexpot:
In the “Entertainment Tonight” footage reported by CBS News, Trump can be heard asking a young girl at Trump Tower, “You going up the escalator?”
“Yeah,” she responds.
“I’m going to be dating her in ten years, can you believe it?” Trump is heard saying.
And there were those contestants in the 1997 Miss Teen USA contest saying things like this:
“I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a man in here,'” said Mariah Billado, the former Miss Vermont Teen USA… Three other women, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of getting engulfed in a media firestorm, also remembered Trump entering the dressing room while girls were changing. Two of them said the girls rushed to cover their bodies, with one calling it “shocking” and “creepy.”
They were all about fifteen at the time, and as for older women, Cassandra Searles, Miss Washington 2013, says this:
In a Facebook post this year, Searles called Trump a “misogynist” who “treated us like cattle” and “lined up so he could get a closer look at his property.”
And meanwhile, in Florida, Mindy McGillivray remembers this:
McGillivray, 36, said she was groped by Trump at Mar-a-Lago 13 years ago. She said she never reported it to authorities. But her companion that day, photographer Ken Davidoff, vividly remembers when McGillivray pulled him aside moments after the alleged incident and told him, “Donald just grabbed my ass!”
And from another teen beauty pageant:
He just came strolling right in. There was no second to put a robe on or any sort of clothing or anything. Some girls were topless. Others girls were naked… Who do you complain to? He owns the pageant. There’s no one to complain to. Everyone there works for him.
On an appearance on The Howard Stern Show in 2005, published on Sunday by CNN, Trump described going backstage at the beauty pageants while the contestants were undressed. “Before a show, I’ll go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed, and everything else, and you know, no men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” he said. “You know, I’m inspecting because I want to make sure that everything is good.”
“You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody okay?’ And you see these incredible looking women, and so, I sort of get away with things like that.”
Maybe that was no more than locker-room talk. Trump can claim that, like he did about that Access Hollywood tape. He was bragging that he could walk into a room of helpless naked fifteen-year-old girls, who knew they couldn’t cover up and had to let him stare, at everything, because he was the rich guy that owned the pageant. That would be a dominance-boast, a guy thing – just words, and thus excusable – no big deal. But then these girls, now women, now say yep, that happened. And there are the four or five other women. There’s a problem here. He’s a pig.
But for every problem there’s a solution. The Trump campaign now says is going to intensify its attacks on Bill Clinton’s past, using allegations against Bill Clinton against Hillary Clinton. Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News guy who is now Trump campaign CEO – whatever that means – said “We’re going to turn him into Bill Cosby.”
Will this now be an election about Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby? How do you get people to stop laughing about how preposterous that is? What about Hillary? Oh right – she’s just a woman.
Maybe this was just a carefully coordinated and specifically timed political hit job, but Josh Marshall doesn’t think so:
Why are all these stories coming out tonight? We can’t know precisely. But Trump’s flat declaration that he has never sexually assaulted a woman was the sort of categorical statement that provides a clear hook for news organizations, a clear, categorical statement to examine, challenge and try to refute. It is also the kind of statement likely to bring forward victims, if there are any, who’ve remained silent. It seems like there are a lot of them.
That means that Trump was the one who triggered this, and there’s nothing suspicious about the timing:
Once that happens, a legitimate news organization cannot and will not just take accuser’s word for it and go ahead and print an allegation. There is seldom proof, per se. But there are standard methods of verification and due diligence a news organization will employ. The first is contemporaneous accounts. Did the victim have others she told at the time or near the time? Can those people verify they were told? Can the accuser verify they were where they claim? Was Trump there? Again, basic due diligence to make a decision about whether a claim is credible. You can’t do that in an hour or two. Many of these new accusers appear to have been prompted to come forward because of Trump’s declaration in Sunday night’s debate. If you figure they reached out to the news organizations on Monday, Wednesday evening is probably about as quickly as those stories could be turned around.
It seems highly likely that there are many more of these to come.
Well, Trump can sue, but as for his proposed suit against the New York Times, on Twitter there were things like this:
Can I be the first to predict that this never reaches the deposition stage?
Does he REALLY want to open himself up to legal discovery proceedings?
Trump would testify against himself thanks to Access Hollywood.
If Camp Trump sues every news org that reports these, they’re going to need WAY more lawyers.
Good. Then he will be forced to testify under oath.
As an attorney I feel sorry for his attorneys.
This is how you spend your resources when you have no campaign. This or a bike trip.
So they reported about the very thing he bragged about and women accused him of doing – and he sues them?
Kevin Drum adds this:
Can you imagine the discovery phase of this suit? Trump’s lawyers would lock him inside his own gold-plated bathroom to keep him from going through with it.
Trump needs some advice, and back in February, Marcus Brauchli explained how he handled Trump:
Donald Trump used to call me his psychologist.
The reason, he’d say, is that I sweet-talked him out of suing so often. I had to: I was a top editor at the Wall Street Journal, a newspaper he read fairly closely, and then executive editor of the Washington Post, a paper he took an interest in as he started making investments in Virginia and Washington and then got more active in politics.
There were certain topics that Trump wanted off-limits, and legal threats were how he tried to keep them that way.
His wealth, for example. Reporters who suggested that he wasn’t a billionaire risked getting a threatening call. Trump unsuccessfully sued journalist Timothy O’Brien, author of the book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald,” for $5 billion after O’Brien reported estimates that Trump at the time was worth between $150 million and $250 million, not the $5 billion to $6 billion Trump liked to claim.
There were many other hot buttons, but one real problem:
The list of hot-button issues for Trump was long. The list of successful Trump lawsuits against journalists is short. (I can’t find a lasting legal victory in a case against a journalist but won’t swear there isn’t one.)
American libel law doesn’t favor those who willingly enter the arena. Unless a public figure – and Trump has been that for most of his life – can prove a journalist knowingly published something false, the courts generally toss the case out.
But that clearly wasn’t the point for Trump. For him, the threat of a defamation or libel lawsuit, let alone the cost to a defendant of a suit that was filed, could be an effective cudgel. Editors and their publishers know that the burden of defending against a lawsuit, even a frivolous one, is real.
But there was a way around that:
I far preferred talking Trump out of suing. It wasn’t difficult – I’d listen to his arguments, usually endure a barrage of profanity aimed at my hard-working colleagues, and then, on at least a couple of occasions, invite him to come to the office for lunch or a meeting with other editors to vent. We never gave in on a point of fact or surrendered our right or determination to publish what we deemed stories of interest or the truth about Trump or his businesses. (I think the record is clear that the Journal and Post newsrooms have covered him thoroughly and fairly, whatever he may think of editorials and occasional op-eds such as this one.)
But we had an advantage over others that he has sued or threatened to sue: We were big publishers, with libel insurance, stalwart lawyers and the experience to defend ourselves. For someone who uses the legal system not to resolve a dispute, but to be punitive or vindictive or as an expression of power, that could be frustrating.
The New York Times will be just fine of course, a big publisher with libel insurance, stalwart lawyers and the experience to defend itself – think of the Pentagon Papers – but that’s neither here nor there:
It is a bitter irony, but perhaps not surprising, that someone who is entirely a creature of his media-defined, social-media-amplified public image should be so fragile that he feels the need to try to curtail what people say about him.
The last thing we need in this society, or at this time, is a leader who thinks a free and open press is something to be curbed.
And we don’t need a sexist pig either, although Phillip Bump notes that Trump sees no problem here:
Appearing on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor” with Bill O’Reilly on Tuesday night, Donald Trump expressed skepticism toward the idea that he wasn’t doing very well with female voters.
“Women, women are the key with this,” O’Reilly told Trump. “You’re winning with men. All right? And I think you will continue to win with men. But women, you’re behind.”
Trump’s reply? “I’m not sure I believe it.”
O’Reilly pointed out that this is what the polling says, with which Trump agreed. Trump then insisted that his team would stay the course.
That may not work:
In the most recent Post-ABC poll, released at the end of last month, Hillary Clinton had a 2-point lead over Trump with likely voters. Among men, Trump led by 19. Among women, Clinton led by 20. There are some indications, though, that the 2005 audio recording of Trump on “Access Hollywood” may have made that gap worse. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that women had moved away from Trump by 9 points in the wake of the tape’s release. A new poll in Wisconsin indicates that women in that state had shifted toward Clinton by 24 more points on Saturday and Sunday than on Thursday, the day before the tape came out.
And now there’s breaking news. This guy wasn’t just joking around to impress the other guys. This wasn’t dominance bullshitting – he actually did these things to women. They’re angry. They won’t let him lie about this.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. vowed to vote for Donald Trump Wednesday night regardless of whether mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against the Republican nominee prove to be true.
Falwell, the head of the Christian non-profit university who has publicly endorsed Trump’s candidacy, said a report in The New York Times citing two women accusing Trump of inappropriately touching them was as “ridiculous” as a hypothetical murder charge.
“You’re saying if – if he murdered somebody, would I forgive him? That’s like asking something as ridiculous as that,” Falwell said on CNN Wednesday night.
Pressed by host Erin Burnett on whether he would continue to support Trump if the allegations turned out to be true, Falwell stood by the candidate.
“I’m going to vote for Donald Trump because I believe he’s the best qualified to be president of the United States,” he said.
Trump did say “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
Ah, no – not this time. There’s no way to grope one’s way to victory. Maybe he should have shot someone.