Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that President Trump has repeatedly questioned the authenticity of the “Access Hollywood tape” in which he can be heard bragging about groping women and kissing them without consent.
“He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently,” the Times reported.
On Monday evening, one of the Times reporters bylined on that piece — Maggie Haberman — went on CNN and said she had just talked to “another person close to him” who said Trump questioned the tape’s authenticity yet again.
“He has said, he’s not really sure that was him,” Haberman said. “What he said to this senator earlier this year — it was in January — was that he was looking into hiring people to ascertain whether it was his voice, that he and his people didn’t think it was his voice, and that has tended to be what he has honed in on.”
But Access Hollywood isn’t having it. During Monday’s edition of the show, hosts reminded Trump and the public at large that the recording of Trump bragging to then-Access Hollywood co-anchor Billy Bush that “when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy” during an appearance on the show in 2005 is all too real.
“We wanted to clear something up that has been reported across the media landscape,” host Natalie Morales said. “Let us make this perfectly clear — the tape is very real. Remember, his excuse at the time was ‘locker-room talk.’ He said every one of those words.”
Access Hollywood weighed in on the same day that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly dodged questions about whether Trump still acknowledges the authenticity of the tape.
During Monday’s news briefing, Sanders refused to directly answer a question about Trump’s position, but said, “the president addressed this, ah, this was litigated and certainly answered during the election by the overwhelming support for the president and the fact that he’s sitting here in the Oval Office today.”
Another reporter circled back on the topic later during the briefing. But Sanders again refused to answer a straightforward question.
“Look, I said that he already addressed it, and that we didn’t have any updates to that,” Sanders said. “I said what he didn’t like and what he found troubling were the accounts that are being reported now.”
“But what accounts are being reported now that weren’t reported last year?” the reporter followed up.
“The ones that are current that he’s questioning,” Sanders replied, unhelpfully.
During her appearance on CNN, Haberman pointed out that Sanders’ remarks “was not actually an answer to the question.”
Trump’s flirtation with denying the authenticity of the Access Hollywood tape is remarkable, given that he acknowledged that the tape was real and apologized for his remarks when it was first published by the Washington Post on October 7, 2016.
In a video posted to his social media accounts later that night, Trump said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize… I never said that I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not.”
During a presidential debate two days later, Trump infamously characterized his comments on the tape as “locker room talk.”
“I’m not proud of it,” Trump said. “I apologize to my family. I apologize to the American people. Certainly I’m not proud of it. But this is locker room talk.”
Haberman traced Trump’s interest in questioning the authenticity of the tape to the public embarrassment he experienced following the tape’s publication.
“I think that episode is one of the very few times I can think of that this president has been truly and identifiably humiliated in a public way, and felt a lot of shame, and he made that clear during the second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton that he found this to be very embarrassing,” Haberman said on CNN. “And I think he has tried to wash away that embarrassment however he could.”
Both in the aforementioned Times report and on CNN, Haberman connected Trump’s renewed interest in the Access Hollywood tape with his support for Roy Moore, the Alabama U.S. Senate candidate who has been accused of child molestation and sexual assault. Even though Moore has been accused of sexual misconduct by numerous women, Trump has publicly indicated he accepts Moore’s denial that he did anything untoward, and has indirectly urged voters in Alabama to vote for him.
In the weeks following the publication of the Access Hollywood tape, more than a dozen women came forward to accuse Trump of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sanders recently indicated that the White House’s official position is that all of Trump’s accusers are liars.