In a lengthy new report from The New York Times, one detail about President Donald Trump's feelings towards the Roy Moore scandal really stands out. Namely, Trump thinks the infamous Access Hollywood tape is fake and is reportedly telling people close to him that he doesn't think he bragged about non-consensual groping and kissing with Billy Bush in 2005 the way the audio and video shows.
Trump is never shy about speaking out on his own behalf. He's insisted in the past that former president Barack Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower prior to the election, for example, a claim denied by virtually everyone in position to know. He's hurled the "fake news" label at virtually any reporting that reflects poorly on him, no matter how well-sourced. But this really does sound like a new frontier.
The detail comes in the context of Trump's recent statement of support for Republican Alabama senate candidate and alleged child molester Roy Moore. The 70-year-old Moore has vehemently denied accusations that he molested a 14-year-old and sexually assaulted a 16-year-old in the 1970s, portraying the claims as false smears promoted by a politically motivated media. Seven other women have also accused Moore of sexual misconduct, their ages at the time of the alleged offenses ranging from 16 to 28. Moore has also repeatedly denied the new allegations.
Trump spoke out in support of Moore earlier this week, noting that he "totally denies" the claims, and suggesting that Alabama residents should vote for him anyway. According to The New York Times, this is in part because Trump doubts Moore's accusers, likening it to the slew of sexual assault allegations made against him during the presidential campaign last year. (Trump has forcefully denied all the allegations, calling his accusers "horrible liars.") But even further, Trump has reportedly told more than one person that he, according to the Times, "wasn't certain" the Access Hollywood tape is "authentic."
According to the report, the Moore allegations reminded Trump of his own sexual assault accusations, and the infamous tape, in which he audibly brags about being about to "grab" women "by the pussy." To refresh your memory, Trump said the following to Billy Bush while riding an Access Hollywood bus back in 2005:
You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful ― I just start kissing them, it's like a magnet, just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. ... Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything.
According to the report, Trump has told at least two people that he doesn't believe the tape is authentic ― one a senator he spoke to "earlier this year," and the other an adviser he spoke to more recently.
In the immediate aftermath of the tape's release in 2016, Trump did not deny the authenticity of the recording. To the contrary, he admitted to making the remarks and apologized, but downplayed them as "locker room talk," and insisted he'd never actually done anything like what he described.
Subsequently, 16 different women accused Trump of the very same sort of behavior he boasted about on the tape ― groping their genitals, forcibly kissing them, and making lewd propositions both in public and in private. Again, Trump vehemently denies the allegations, and he threatened to sue his accusers after the election. He never followed through with that threat, however, and is himself now the target of a defamation suit brought by one of the women, former The Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos, for calling she and his other accusers liars. Trump's attorneys have defended his remarks on free speech grounds, and have sought to have the case thrown out of court, but have so far been unsuccessful.
The allegations against Trump were seen by many as a potentially decisive turning-point in the campaign, but when the dust settled on Nov. 8, approximately 80,000 voters spread across three battleground states put Trump in the White House anyway. (He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton overwhelmingly.) Now, with Trump defending Moore despite the allegations of sexually predatory behavior, he joins other Alabama Republicans who are calling for voters to turn a blind eye to the disturbing claims and vote for Moore anyway.