Editor’s note: This story contains sexually explicit language that readers may find offensive.
NEW YORK – Caught on tape making shockingly crude comments about a married woman he tried to seduce, Donald Trump declared in a midnight video, “I was wrong and I apologize.” Yet even as he did so, he claimed the astonishing recording was “nothing more than a distraction” and argued his words were not nearly as egregious as former President Bill Clinton’s marital affairs.
“I’ve said some foolish things,” the Republican presidential nominee said in a taped apology posted on his Facebook page early Saturday morning. “But there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women.”
Turning to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Trump accused her of having “bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated” her husband’s “victims.”
Trump’s 90-second statement capped a jarring day that threatened to sink his presidential campaign and sent Republicans into a panic with early voting well underway in several states and a little more than a month until Election Day.
On Friday afternoon, the Washington Post and NBC News released a 2005 video on which Trump describes trying to have sex with a married woman. He also brags about women letting him kiss and grab them because he is famous.
“When you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
He adds seconds later, “Grab them by the p——. You can do anything.”
Within hours, the shock of the video led to widespread condemnation from inside Trump’s own party. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was sickened by Trump’s comments, while a one-sentence response from GOP’s chairman was devastating.
“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” said Reince Priebus, who had stood by Trump through his past provocative comments.
Ryan added tartly that Trump was “no longer attending” a joint campaign appearance set for Saturday in Wisconsin.
Other Republicans, painfully aware of Trump’s possible impact on their own political fates, were quick to chime in. New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is locked in a close race, called his comments “totally inappropriate and offensive.”
By the time Trump posted his video apology, three Republican members of Congress had called on Trump to abandon the race. Among them was Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who called Trump’s words “some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.”
Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was “beside himself” and his wife was furious, according to a person familiar with their thinking.
On the tape, Trump is caught on a live microphone while talking with Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood.” The candidate is heard saying “I did try and f—- her. She was married.” He also uses graphic terms to describe the woman’s body and says he frequently tries to kiss beautiful women.
“Access Hollywood” said a recent Associated Press story about Trump’s lewd behind-the-scenes comments as star of “The Apprentice” led it to dig through its archives and turn up the previously unaired tape. It was recorded during a bus ride while Trump was on his way to appear in an episode of the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
Trump offered a half-hearted apology shortly after the video was released, saying he was sorry “if anyone was offended.” Only hours later, after the scope of the damage became clear, did he release the video statement. Trump appears alone in the video and appears to be reading off a script.
Friday’s developments came two days before Trump and Clinton are to meet in the second presidential debate, with the Republican urgently in need of a strong performance. After his uneven showing in the first contest, public opinion polls have showed Clinton pulling ahead in nearly all battleground states.