In the first 10 minutes of Sunday's presidential debate, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Donald Trump if he had ever grabbed a woman’s genitals without permission.
Cooper was referencing the 2005 footage first published by The Washington Post in which Trump spoke graphically about women.
“You described kissing women without their consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault," Cooper said. "You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?”
“No, I didn’t say that at all,” Trump replied. “I don’t think you understood what was said. This was locker-room talk. I’m not proud of it. I apologized to my family, I apologized to the American people.”
The exchange stands out for more than just its lewd content, already unusual in the context of a presidential debate. Cooper used the Justice Department’s definition in describing the behavior Trump bragged about in the conversation, calling it “sexual assault.”
The Justice Department defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
During Tuesday’s showdown, the Republican presidential candidate attempted to change the topic, bringing up his intention to destroy the Islamic State.
“Just for the record, though,” Cooper cut in, “are you saying that what you said on that bus 11 years ago, that you did not actually kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?”
“I have great respect for women,” Trump responded. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Frankly, you hear these things — they’re said.”
“Have you ever done those things?” Cooper asked.
“No, I have not,” Trump said.
Cooper isn’t the only public figure to label the behavior Trump described as sexual assault.
“Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said in a statement Saturday. “Cindy, with her strong background in human rights and respect for women fully agrees with me in this."
“That’s nothing less than someone talking about committing sexual violence — the kissing, the grabbing,” Bridgette Stumpf, co-executive director of Network for Victim Recovery of D.C., told The Post about Trump’s remarks. “He’s talking about women as if they’re objects, as if they don’t have a right to consent to the way someone touches them. This is how sexual violence becomes accepted in our culture.”
In the tape, which dominated the weekend news cycle, Trump talked into a hot mic about how he pursued women.
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” Trump said in the recording. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
Fame gave him that ability, Trump continued. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he told to then-“Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush. “You can do anything.”
“Grab them by the p----,” Trump said. “You can do anything.”
He apologized for the comments in a statement and a 90-second television appearance Friday, explaining the conversation was “locker-room talk.”