St. Louis – This rollercoaster of a presidential campaign took a new and unprecedented twist Sunday evening when Republican nominee Donald Trump staged a surprise news conference — 90 minutes before his scheduled debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — alongside a group of women who have publicly accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct.
Three of the women present — Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick — have previously alleged various offenses against the former president, ranging from harassment to rape. The fourth, Kathy Shelton, was a 12-year-old rape victim in 1975, and her assailant was defended in court by Hillary Clinton.
“These four very courageous women have asked to be here and it was our honor to help them,” Trump said, seated in the middle of the four women, all of them lined up behind two rectangular folding tables inside an otherwise barren room here on the campus of Washington University.
There had been speculation for months that Trump could invite one of Bill Clinton’s accusers to a debate, perhaps having them sit in the front row to unnerve his Democratic opponent. But Trump’s campaign consistently dismissed such rumors. Yet with Trump’s back firmly against the wall – after Friday’s blockbuster publication of a decade-old recording of him boasting about groping women — the Republican nominee had nothing to lose. Not only would he sit with four of the Clinton family’s most vocal critics for a pre-debate media feeding frenzy; several of them, it was confirmed, would sit inside the debate hall later that night.
As reporters scrambled into the room and flipped on their recorders, Trump announced that each of the four women would make a short statement. After that, he added, the news conference would conclude and he would meet with them privately.
Jones went first. A former employee at the Arkansas statehouse, she sued Bill Clinton in 1994, alleging he sexually harassed and assaulted her. “I’m here to support Mr. Trump because he’s going to make America great again, and I think everybody else should vote for him,” she said. “And I think they should all look at the fact that he’s a good person, he’s not what other people have been saying he’s been — like Hillary. So think about that.”
Shelton was next. With Hillary Clinton’s assistance, the 41-year-old man who allegedly raped her pled down the charges to “unlawful fondling of a minor” and served less than a year in jail. “I’m also here to support Trump,” Shelton said. ”At 12 years old, Hillary put me through something that you would never put a 12-year-old through. And she says she’s for women and children — when she was asked last year what happened, and she said she was supposed to defend whether they did it or not. Now she’s laughing on tape, saying she knows they did it.” Trump looked over at her. “You went through a lot,” he said. She nodded. “Yes sir, I did.”
“I’m here to support Donald Trump,” Broaddrick began, echoing the other women. “I’ve tweeted recently, and Mr Trump re-tweeted it, that actions speak louder than words. Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.”
Willey went last. ”I’m here to support Donald Trump. The reason for that is the first day that he announced for president, he said, ‘I love this country and I want America to be great again.’ And I cried when he said that,” she said. ”Because I think this is the greatest country in the world. I think that we can do anything, I think we can accomplish anything, I think we can bring peace to this world, and I think Donald Trump can deliver us to that point.”
When Willey finished, Trump concluded, ”Okay, thank you all very much. We appreciate it.”
As reporters shouted questions to Trump — asking whether he had touched women without their consent – Jones snapped at them: “Why don’t you go ask Bill Clinton that? Why don’t you go ask Bill Clinton that? Go ahead — ask Hillary as well!”
Trump turned to her and grinned.