Shelton appeared with Trump before the debate on Sunday night and was also expected to be in the debate hall, according to the Trump campaign.
"One of the women, who is a wonderful woman, at 12 years old, was raped at 12," Trump said. "Her client she represented got him off, and she's seen laughing on two separate occasions, laughing at the girl who was raped. Kathy Shelton, that young woman is here with us tonight."
The attack on Clinton has less to do with the fact that she defended an accused rapist and more to do with how she did it and what she said about the case later -- specifically, her efforts to attack the girl's credibility and allegations that she spoke callously about getting the man a reduced charge, despite appearing to suggest he had been guilty.
The attack plays into twin allegations about Clinton's character: 1) That she lacks a moral compass and will do whatever is advantageous to her, and 2) That she's a hypocrite who says one thing today today about sexual assault but did the opposite decades ago.
Here are the basics of the case and what we have come to learn about it:
The Washington Free Beacon in 2014 discovered previously unpublished tapes of Clinton talking about the case in the mid-1980s for an article in an Arkansas newspaper that would never run. On those tapes, Clinton laughs at several points while recounting the case.
The Post's Fact Checker back in May transcribed four key moments in the tapes in which she laughed:
- “Of course he [the defendant] claimed he didn’t [rape]. All this stuff. He took a lie detector test. I had him take a polygraph, which he passed, which forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs.” (Both Clinton and the reporter laugh)
- “So I got an order to see the evidence and the prosecutor didn’t want me to see the evidence. I had to go to Maupin Cummings [the judge] and convince Maupin that yes indeed I had a right to see the evidence before it was presented. (Clinton laughs lightly between “evidence” and “before”)
- “I handed it [a biography of her expert witness] to [prosecutor] Mahlon Gibson, and I said, ‘Well this guy’s ready to come up from New York to prevent this miscarriage of justice.’” (Clinton laughs, as does the reporter)
- “So [judge] Maupin had to, you know -- under law he was supposed to determine whether the plea was factually supported. Maupin asked me to leave the room while he examined my client so that he could find out if it was factually supported. I said, ‘Judge I can’t leave the room I’m his lawyer!’ He said, ‘I know but I don’t want to talk about this in front of you.'” (Reporter says, “Oh God, really?” And they both laugh.)
Clinton's comments -- particularly about the passed polygraph -- clearly seem to suggest she thought that man had gotten off easy for what he had done. The man, Thomas Alfred Taylor, received a year in jail and four years probation.
But it's not the only part of the case for which Republicans have attacked her. They have also accused her of hypocrisy, pointing out that Clinton went after the character and mental state of Shelton. She wrote in an affidavit that Shelton should have undergone a psychiatric examination:
"I have been informed that the complainant is emotionally unstable with a tendency to seek out older men and to engage in fantasizing. I have also been informed that she has in the past made false accusations about persons, claiming they had attacked her body.”
Republicans have contrasted Clinton's efforts to question the girl's story and trustworthiness with her comments on the campaign trail, when she has pitched herself as a longtime defender of women's rights and suggested women who make such allegations should be believed.
Here's a tweet from September 2015:
She said in November 2015 that "every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed and supported."
Asked in December about Broaddrick's allegation that Bill Clinton had raped her, Clinton added a modifier to her answer: "Well, I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence."
Similar to the attacks on Clinton's handling of Bill Clinton's accusers in the 1990s, the attack here has less to do with the misdeed on the surface and more to do with how Hillary Clinton responded to them -- and whether her behavior was consistent with the advocate for women's rights she presents herself as today.
It's a case Trump seems bent on pressing as he faces questions about his own true regard for women.