The reporter pressed him. "But beyond the language, would you characterize the behavior described in that as sexual assault if that behavior actually took place?"
"I don't characterize that as sexual assault,” Session replied.
"So if you grab a woman by the genitals,” the reporter said, “that's not sexual assault?"
"I don't know. It's not clear that he — how that would occur," Sessions said.
After the Weekly Standard story ran, Sessions released a statement asserting the reporter had misrepresented his feelings on the matter.
"The Weekly Standard’s characterization of comments I made following Sunday’s Presidential debate is completely inaccurate,” Sessions wrote. “My hesitation was based solely on confusion of the contents of the 2005 tape and the hypothetical posed by the reporter, which was asked in a chaotic post-debate environment. I regret that it resulted in an inaccurate article that misrepresented my views. Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable. I would never intentionally suggest otherwise."
Sessions did not clarify whether the exact type of behavior that Trump said he committed — grabbing a woman by the genitals — constitued assault.
His comments prompted furor from Democrats, who said Trump had described criminal behavior in the eleven-year-old footage. The Justice Department, which Sessions may soon lead, defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.”
“It would be very disappointing if the leadership within the Department of Justice had a perspective on sexual violence that sets the movement back,” said Bridgette Stumpf, co-executive director of Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. “Sexual assault is a broad umbrella term that captures many aspects of sexual violence. There is no question that touching someone's genital area, man or women, without their consent, is sexual assault by contact.”