Update: The White House was asked about this report Monday and said Trump "hasn't changed his position" on the "Access Hollywood" tape.
In a piece about the parallels President Trump sees between his own campaign and Roy Moore's embattled one in Alabama, the New York Times nestles this head-scratcher: Trump has told at least two people that the “Access Hollywood” tape on which he was recorded talking about groping women is, well, fake news.
Here's the paragraph:
But something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. (In the hours after it was revealed in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the voice was his, and he apologized.)
That parenthetical is huge here. Trump, after all, made a habit out of apologizing for basically nothing during his entire campaign. But the one thing for which he did clearly apologize and accept the blame was that 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape. Although Trump is undoubtedly fond of conspiracy theories, even he wasn't willing to go there on this one with a month left in the 2016 election.
Rather than dispute that it was him on that tape, Trump instead downplayed the idea that he had or would actually engage in the kind of behaviors he described — specifically, grabbing women “by the p‑‑‑y,” kissing them without permission and pursuing a married woman.
Trump tacitly acknowledged the tape's authenticity right away on Oct. 7, 2016, although he appended an “if anyone was offended” caveat and a Bill Clinton attack to his apology:
This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course — not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.
Later that night, he issued a more complete apology via a video on Facebook (emphases added):
I've never said I'm a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I'm not. I've said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize. . . .
Let's be honest: We're living in the real world. This is nothing more than a distraction from the important issues we're facing today. We are losing our jobs, we're less safe than we were eight years ago, and Washington is totally broken. Hillary Clinton and her kind have run our country into the ground. I've said some foolish things, but there's a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days. See you at the debate on Sunday.
At that debate two days later, Trump was again pressed on the issue, and he again copped to the tape's authenticity:
It was locker room talk, as I told you. That was locker room talk. I'm not proud of it. I am a person who has great respect for people, for my family, for the people of this country. And certainly, I'm not proud of it. But that was something that happened. . . .
I am absolutely — I apologize for those words. But it is things that people say. But what President Clinton did, he was impeached, he lost his license to practice law. He had to pay an $850,000 fine to one of the women, Paula Jones, who's also here tonight. And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and she talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it's disgraceful, and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.
So in just those three sets of comments are nine acknowledgments that it was his voice on that tape. And yet, according to the Times, Trump has been repeatedly suggesting that it wasn't.
This is at once shocking and completely unsurprising. There are plenty of Donald Trump impersonators out there, sure, but this would be an impossibly elaborate hoax. The most objectionable comments on the video take place while Trump and Billy Bush are out of sight, inside a bus, but they later emerge from that bus in the uncut video.
The simpler explanation is that this is merely Trump never being willing to give an inch. Every slight by the media has to be fake news, and every perceived shortcoming has to have an alternative explanation. Trump was prevailed upon to issue a rare full-scale apology in this case, but he'd still like to sow doubts about whether he actually did the thing he was forced to apologize for.
We'll have to see if Trump makes the same allegation publicly. If there's anything that he's shown us, it's that the implausibility of the claim doesn't serve as any real deterrent. This is a candidate and president, after all, who has argued that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election and that they voted only for Hillary Clinton. He also suggested Ted Cruz's dad might have killed John F. Kennedy. He said people were celebrating in the streets of New Jersey on 9/11.
Next to those, it would really only make sense that he would call the “Access Hollywood” tape fake news.