The charge came after Gingrich, a prominent Trump surrogate, blasted news media outlets for devoting more airtime to the Republican presidential candidate’s remarks on women than the recently leaked transcripts of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches.
“So, so it’s worth 23 minutes of the three networks to cover that story,” Gingrich said, “and Hillary Clinton had a secret speech in Brazil to a bank that pays her 225,000 [dollars]... that’s not worth covering …”
“That is worth covering,” Kelly replied. “And we did.”
After the Washington Post published a 2005 tape Oct. 7 showing Trump bragging about sexually touching women without their permission, 10 women accused him of making unwanted moves on them.
“You know what Mr. Speaker, I’m not fascinated by sex, but I am fascinated by the protection of women,” Kelly said, “and understanding what we’re getting in the Oval Office.”
The interview was destined to go viral. But it’s easy to miss a more nuanced reality amid the heated sparring: Sexual violence is, actually, part of the public policy discussion.
The Justice Department defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” The White House said Trump’s description of his behavior fits that mold — though Trump denies committing any of the actions he bragged about on the tape.
State laws vary on what constitutes sexual violence and how it should be punished. In New York, for example, groping could qualify as “forcible touching,” a Class A misdemeanor that carries a sentence of up to a year behind bars or three years probation, according to the New York Times. In Florida, grabbing a woman sexually and without consent could be seen as battery, a first-degree misdemeanor, which could also result in a year of jail time.
More broadly, the quest to end sexual violence against women has attracted “unprecedented” attention from lawmakers in recent years, said Rebecca O’Connor, the vice president of public policy at the Rape Abuse Incest National Network.
The high-profile downfall of Bill Cosby, she said, motivated lawmakers nationwide to examine how their states were handling sexual assault: Were rape kits, the forensic evidence collected after an attack, getting tested in a timely fashion? (Often, no. Oregon, for example, passed a measure this year to speed up the process.) Were the statutes of limitations, the deadlines to pursue criminal charges, impeding justice? (Over the last two years, four states have opted to extend their windows.)
O’Connor said she hopes the attention around Trump’s remarks will better educate Americans about predatory behavior, in general. “Comments like that,” she said, “glorify or support behavior that could be considered under the law sexual violence.”
Trump praised Gingrich during a stop at his hotel in downtown Washington on Wednesday morning.
“That was an amazing interview,” Trump said. “We don’t play games, Newt, right? We don’t play games.”
Republican strategist Katie Packer, who served as Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012, said Gingrich came off as hypocritical and dismissive of sexual assault and harassment.
“He is viewed as the guy that led the charge to disqualify Bill Clinton for immoral and potentially criminal behavior,”she said. “And the GOP had his back. We all charged up the Hill with him. He doesn't get to say ‘no big deal’ when it's about his guy.”
Gingrich was the speaker in 1998 when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton on charges stemming from his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In an emailed response, Woody Hales, a spokesman for Gingrich, suggested the comparison between Clinton's case and Trump's is unfair.
"Clinton’s impeachment was over perjury, which is a felony," he wrote.
Packer, who specializes in helping Republican candidates connect with female voters, said women, in particular, won’t appreciate Gingrich conflating inquiries into Trump’s treatment with women as “fascination with sex.”
The candidate’s support among women dipped after the 2005 footage hit the Internet. In an Oct. 16 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 68 percent of respondents say they believe he has made unwanted advances toward women.
“Talking about it and forcing accountability for it,” Packer said, “is not ‘a fascination with sex.”
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