Donald Trump has denied sexually assaulting women as he claimed in the recording which tipped his presidential campaign into crisis over the weekend.
Going head-to-head against Hillary Clinton at the second presidential debate in St Louis, Missouri, on Sunday evening, the Republican also called his rival the “devil” and threatened to send her to prison should he win the White House.
Clinton said Trump had shown himself to be unfit to be president.
One month before of the November 8 election, Trump is is fighting to rescue his campaign after a tape emerged which showed the billionaire businessman saying in 2005 he liked to “grab” women “by the pussy”.
The comments have led one in three Republican Senators to say they will not vote for him. Polls taken before the debate suggested Trump is losing to Clinton in the race.
Trump told debate moderators Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News that his words had been “locker room banter”. He repeatedly complained about not being given enough time to talk.
“I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do. I have tremendous respect for women and women have respect for me,” he said. Asked by Cooper if he had ever assaulted women, Trump said: “No, I have not.”
Shortly before the debate began, Trump hosted a surprise, and extraordinary, press conference alongside women who have accused Bill Clinton of rape and unwanted advances. The women also took seats inside the debate audience. As did Bill Clinton.
Nobody has more respect for women than I do Donald Trump
Speaking during the debate, Trump tried to turn the attention away from him and accused Bill Clinton of being “abusive to women” and said Hillary Clinton “attacked those same women”. He added: “I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed of herself.”
He added of Bill Clinton: “Never been anybody in the history of politics that’s been so abusive to women.”
The Washington Post on Friday published a leaked video in which Trump bragged about groping women and hitting on a married woman. “I am automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss, I don’t even wait,” Trump said in a 2005 conversation with “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Hillary Clinton, who said she had spent the previous 48-hours thinking about Trump’s comments, hit back at the Republican.
“What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about women, what he thinks about women, what he does to women,” Clinton said. “And he has said that the video doesn’t represent who he is, but I think it’s clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly who he is, because we’ve seen this throughout the campaign.”
“We have seen him insult women,” Clinton added. “We’ve seen him rate women on their appearance, rank them from one to 10. We’ve seen him embarrass women on TV and on Twitter. We saw him after the first debate spend nearly a week denigrating a former Miss Universe in the harshest, most personal terms. So yes, this is who Donald Trump is.”
“It’s not only this video that raises questions about his fitness to be our president,” she said. “Because he has also targeted immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, prisoners of war, Muslims, and so many others. So this is who Donald Trump is, and the question for us, the question our country must answer, is if this is not who we are.”
Hillary Clinton and Trump did not shake hands at the start of the debate. Trump said if he was in charge of laws in the US, Hillary Clinton would “be in jail” for her use of a private email account while serving as President Obama’s secretary of state.
“I didn’t think I’d say this but I’m going to say it, and I hate to say it, but if I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception, there has never been anything like it and we’re going to have a special prosecutor,” Trump said.
Clinton responded by inviting viewers to fact-check what Trump was saying on her campaign website.
“We have literally Trump, you can fact check him in real time. Last time, at the first debate, we had millions of people fact-checking. So I expect we’ll have millions more fact-checking because, you know, it is, it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” she said.
“Because you would be in jail,” Trump said to Clinton.
Trump, who appeared to increase in confidence as the 90-minute debate unfolded, said Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic presidential primary, had signed on “with the devil” when he eventually backed Clinton.
Clinton and Trump were also both asked to name something they liked about each other. Clinton said she respected Trump as a father to his children. Trump said he respected how Clinton was a “fighter” who did not give up.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump attacked leaders of his own party, accused them of being “hypocrites” for abandoning him, and predicted they would lose their own elections in November.
One in three Republican Senators have turned against Trump and said they will not vote for him - including former presidential candidate John McCain. Most had stood by their party’s presidential candidate – despite his habit of making making misogynist, anti-Muslim and xenophobic comments - until the tape of his sexual assault remarks were broadcast.
However other leading Republicans have condemned Trump but are still supporting his bid for the White House - including the party’s two most senior figures in Congress. Senator Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, said he was “sickened” by Trump’s comments. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Trump to “apologise directly to women and girls everywhere”. But both men have not retracted their call for Americans to vote for Trump.
Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus said has said “no woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.” But Priebus is also continuing to support and fund Trump’s campaign.
Nigel Farage, who has returned as Ukip leader, again, said Trump’s claim he could sexually assault women because he was famous was nothing more than “alpha male boasting”. Speaking in St Louis before last night’s debate, Farage said Trump’s sexist boasting was the sort of thing “that men do”.
Heading into the debate on Sunday evening, polls conducted before Trump’s comments about assaulting women emerged, showed the Republican was losing to Hillary Clinton. In order to have a chance at winning the presidency, Trump has to carry several states that are leaning toward his opponent, including Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Republican leaders who have distanced themselves from Trump also worry his campaign could damage the chances of the party’s candidates for Congress who are also seeking election next month.