Defiant Trump seizes on Clinton sex scandal before debate

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigning in West Virginia. (AP file)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaigning in West Virginia. (AP file)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hours before a critical presidential debate, a damaged but defiant Donald Trump seized on never-proved sexual assault allegations against Hillary Clinton’s husband. It was a dramatic escalation of personal attacks as he sought to deflect fallout from his own sexually aggressive comments.

The Republican presidential nominee tweeted a link Sunday to an interview with Juanita Broaddrick, and its headline that she “relives brutal rapes.” Broaddrick’s lawsuit against Bill Clinton accusing him of rape was dismissed in 2001 and criminal charges were never filed. Clinton has denied the allegations.

Trump’s risky move comes as he tries to save a flailing campaign facing unprecedented opposition from within his own party. More than two dozen Republican office holders have declared since Friday that they will not vote for Trump. Many have called on him to step aside after his vulgar descriptions of sexual advances on women were revealed in a recording.

Trump’s attack on Bill Clinton’s past was backed by top surrogate, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who equated Trump’s latest controversy to the actions of Hillary Clinton in the 1990s when her husband struggled through the fallout of his own sexual transgressions.

Over the objections of CNN anchor Jake Tapper, Giuliani insisted that Hillary Clinton “was the leader of the attack” against “the women who Bill Clinton sexually assaulted, sexually abused.”

Giuliani, as Trump had the day before, declared that the Republican nominee would never quit the presidential race.

With just a month remaining before the election, Trump’s task in Sunday night’s debate is enormous, and perhaps insurmountable. Even before the recording of his remarks were made public, the businessman lagged behind Clinton after an undisciplined first debate. He is struggling to overcome deep skepticism among women about his temperament and qualifications to be commander in chief.

Trump has long hinted he would raise Bill Clinton’s sexual history at debates. In what was billed as a videotaped apology, Trump over the weekend said “Bill Clinton has actually abused women” and Hillary Clinton “bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated” her husband’s “victims.”

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazille said Hillary Clinton had suffered because of her husband’s infidelities and noted that Bill Clinton, who was impeached, has been held accountable.

“There is no accountability for Donald Trump in the — in the ridiculous and sexist things that he has said and racist things that he has said over the past few years,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Outside Trump’s small cadre of advisers, support for the businessman was scarce among prominent Republicans following Friday’s release of the 2005 videotape.

Trump’s own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, declared he could neither condone nor defend the remarks. Several other Republicans took the extraordinary step of revoking support for their party’s nominee. Among them: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte — both are running for re-election — and the party’s 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Many went further and called on Trump to quit the race altogether.

Trump called his detractors “self-righteous hypocrites” Sunday on Twitter: “Watch their poll numbers – and elections – go down!”

Republican leaders have scheduled a rare Monday conference call for House GOP lawmakers, who are out on recess. An email obtained by The Associated Press doesn’t specify the topic for the call, but rank-and-file lawmakers believe it’s about Trump.

The firestorm was sparked by the video obtained Friday by The Washington Post and NBC News. In the video, Trump, who was married to his current wife at the time, is heard describing attempts to have sex with a married woman. He also says that when you’re a star, “you can do anything.” Trump adds seconds later: “Grab them by the p—-. You can do anything.” He said of his impulse to kiss beautiful women: “I don’t even wait.”

The Republican National Committee is considering how to move forward. One possibility: re-directing its expansive political operation away from Trump and toward helping vulnerable congressional candidates. Such a move would leave Trump with virtually no political infrastructure in swing states to ensure his supporters vote.

Election law experts suggest it would be logistically impossible to replace Trump on the ballot altogether, with early voting underway in some states and overseas ballots already distributed.

The recording almost completely overshadowed the release of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign that revealed the contents of previously secret paid speeches to Wall Street. Clinton told bankers behind closed doors that she favored “open trade.” Such comments were at odds with her tough public comments about trade and Wall Street.

Clinton running mate Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine deflected questions about the emails and focused instead of Trump.

“I think there’s kind of a piece of the jigsaw puzzle missing in Donald Trump where he does not look at women and consider them as equal to himself,” Kaine said on CNN.