Is grabbing women’s genitals sexual assault? Trump backers suggest it’s not

He did not say the word sexual assault, I think thats a stretch and Im not a lawyer among excuses trotted out by aides and surrogates about lewd comments

The 2005 tape of Donald Trump bragging that his celebrity status allowed him to grope women with abandon has sent the Republican party reeling. But on Sunday night, the top spokespeople for the GOP and the Trump campaign had recovered their wits long enough to dispute whether Trump was actually describing a sexual assault in the 11-year-old recording.

Thats a very unfortunate phrase, and people really should stop using it, Kellyanne Conway, Trumps campaign manager, told CNNs Dana Bash. He did not say the word sexual assault.

Separately, longtime Trump supporter Senator Jeff Sessions told the conservative magazine Weekly Standard that he wouldnt characterize unwanted touching and kissing as sexual assault. I think thats a stretch, he said.

I dont know, said Sean Spicer, the GOPs top spokesperson, in reply to the same question. Im not a lawyer.

Their remarks came just three days after the tape of Trump sent shockwaves through the Republican party and a few hours before the House speaker, Paul Ryan, without withdrawing his earlier endorsement, announced he would no longer come to Trumps defense.

The tape, recorded while Trump and NBC host Billy Bush rode a bus to the set of Access Hollywood, captured Trump making lewd comments about actor Arianne Zucker and women in general while Bush egged him on.

Ive gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her, Trump is heard to say on the tape, which the Washington Post released on Friday. You know Im automatically attracted to beautiful I just start kissing them. Its like a magnet. Just kiss. I dont even wait And when youre a star they let you do it. You can do anything Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

Trump has variously said he was sorry if the conversation caused offense and downplayed and dismissed his words as run-of-the-mill locker room talk. Facing a Sunday talk show gauntlet, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said: The fact is men, at times, talk like that.

But until Sunday night, no one representing Trumps campaign or party including Giuliani disputed the fact that what Trump was describing was the very definition of sexual assault. (Whether Trump on the tape was describing a specific instance in which he touched women without their consent is unclear.)

Several prominent Republicans who denounced Trumps remarks over the weekend unequivocally stated that the tape captured Trump describing an act of sexual assault. It is never appropriate to condone unwanted sexual advances or violence against women, congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House, said on Friday.

John McCain, in a statement withdrawing his endorsement of Trump, was even more blunt. Trumps behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to offer even conditional support for his candidacy, McCain said. He added: No woman should ever be victimized by this kind of inappropriate behavior.

It was only after an acrimonious Trump confronted Hillary Clinton at Washington University in St Louis for the second presidential debate that his surrogates flipped the script.

In the spin room where reporters gathered for post-debate reactions, Conway condemned the use of the words sexual assault to describe Trumps remarks, telling CNNs Bash: Thats a very unfortunate phrase. When Bash pointed out that Trump had in fact described a sexual assault, Conway replied that he had not said the word sexual assault.

The Weekly Standard put a similar question to Spicer and Sessions, with Sessions replying: I dont characterize that as sexual assault. I think thats a stretch. The reporter persisted: So if you grab a woman by the genitals, thats not sexual assault?

I dont know, Sessions responded. Its not clear that he how that would occur.

Their remarks recalled instances when Republicans downplayed the seriousness of sexual assault. In 2012, Todd Akin, a candidate for the Senate from Missouri, lost badly to Senator Claire McCaskill after saying women couldnt become pregnant from rape if the attack was a legitimate rape. Just one year prior, Republicans were accused of attempting to redefine rape through a congressional proposal to limit abortion rights for anyone who wasnt the target of a forcible rape.

Perhaps they were taking cues from Trump himself, who on Sunday night denied that his words amounted to a description of sexual violence.

You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals, said CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?

No, Trump replied. I didnt say that at all.

Read more: www.theguardian.com