Several of Donald Trump’s top campaign surrogates say they aren’t sure if grabbing a woman by the genitalia without her consent — as the candidate described in a 2005 video that leaked over the weekend — would be considered sexual assault.
“I think that’s a stretch,” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions told the Weekly Standard on Sunday night. “I don’t know what he meant.”
In the tape released Friday, Trump was caught on a hot mic bragging to then “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush that he could do anything he wanted to with women because of his celebrity status.
“I just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Trump said. “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.”
Sessions, a former Alabama attorney general and U.S. attorney, was asked to clarify his response.
“So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?” the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack asked.
“I don’t know,” Sessions replied. “It’s not clear that he — how that would occur.”
McCormack asked Republican National Committee chief strategist Sean Spicer the same question.
“I don’t know,” Spicer said. “I’m not a lawyer.”
According to Sect. 130.52 of the penal code in Trump’s home state, what he described at the very least is “forcible touching,” a class A misdemeanor:
S 130.52 Forcible touching.
A person is guilty of forcible touching when such person intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose:
1. forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire; or
2. subjects another person to sexual contact for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire and with intent to degrade or abuse such other person while such other person is a passenger on a bus, train, or subway car operated by any transit agency, authority or company, public or private, whose operation is authorized by New York state or any of its political subdivisions.
For the purposes of this section, forcible touching includes squeezing, grabbing or pinching.
Forcible touching is a class A misdemeanor.
If the woman had been penetrated, it could be considered aggravated sexual assault, a felony.
On ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a top Trump adviser, conceded what the Republican nominee was describing on the 2005 tape was sexual assault.
“The problem isn’t just the words,” Stephanopoulos said. “What Trump is describing in that tape is sexual assault.”
“That’s what he’s talking about,” Giuliani replied. “You know, whether it happened or not, I don’t know. And how much exaggeration was involved, I don’t know.”
Related: Not ‘just words’: Why Donald Trump’s lewd talk matters
During Sunday’s debate, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Trump whether he understood that what he described on the tape was sexual assault.
“You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault,” Cooper said to Trump. “You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
“No, I didn’t say that at all,” Trump replied. “I don’t think you understood what was — this was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.”
Cooper repeatedly asked Trump if he has ever done what he had described.
“No, I have not,” Trump finally replied before pivoting to the fight against ISIS.
On “Fox & Friends” Monday, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway criticized Cooper for pressing Trump on the topic.
“When Anderson Cooper pressed Mr. Trump on sexual assault, Donald Trump shot back and said, No, that’s not what this was. These are words,” Conway said. “And I think there’s something there, because this term ‘sexual assault’ has been bandied about, and I will tell you as somebody who’s worked with and certainly has in my life, as I’m sure we all do, victims of sexual assault, it demeans them to equate that with this for political purposes.”
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