As a swirl of sexual impropriety allegations roil Washington, President Donald Trump’s top aides are trying to inoculate him from comparisons with the stories of more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct.
But the allegations against Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, who apologized after a California radio host and model said he had groped and kissed her without consent in 2006, and Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama who has been accused by multiple women of pursuing sexual relationships with them as teenagers when he was in his early 30s, have dredged up the allegations last year made against Trump, including the 2005 Access Hollywood tape in which Trump brags about sexually assaulting women.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Friday that there are no similarities between the Trump and Franken accusations.
Her reason: Trump never admitted wrongdoing and Franken did.
“This was covered pretty extensively during the campaign. We addressed it then,” Sanders said. “The American people spoke very loud and clear when they elected this President.”
Asked directly about how there could be a difference, Sanders said, “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the President hasn’t.”
The similarities, however, have created an awkward situation for those in the White House who are now left to defend accusations against Trump while supporting an investigation into the reports about Franken.
Marc Short, Trump’s top legislative aide, told CNN on Friday that Trump was saying there was a “level of hypocrisy” involving Franken given that the senator had condemned Moore and others. Short went on to defend Trump’s comments in the Access Hollywood tape, where Trump bragged about grabbing women.
“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says on the recording, which was published during the 2016 election campaign. “You can do anything.”
Regarding those comments, Short told CNN: “He was apologetic about that. He apologized to his wife and family and the American people about what he considered locker room behavior. He is not trying to excuse it.”
At least 13 women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual impropriety, allegations that range from sexual harassment and misconduct to sexual assault, including unwanted kissing and groping. All of the alleged incidents took place prior to his assuming the presidency.
Trump did little to help aides tasked with defending him when, on Thursday night, he tweeted about Franken.
“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps,” Trump tweeted. “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”
Trump was referring to a 1995 New York Magazine profile quoting Franken on writing a joke about drugging and raping journalist Lesley Stahl.
Trump has yet to directly comment – or tweet – about Moore, whose Senate candidacy is imperiled by the mounting accusations against him.
During his lengthy recent trip to Asia, Trump dodged questions about the candidate by claiming that he wasn’t watching TV or paying attention to news back home. The President also ignored a question about Moore shouted by a reporter on Friday.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway claimed on Friday that Trump has remained silent on Moore because he was in Asia when the story broke and it wasn’t new when he returned to Washington.
“Well, Al Franken was a brand-new news story yesterday and the President weighed in as he does on the news of the day often enough,” Conway told Fox News. “The Roy Moore story is eight days old and the President put out a statement on his Asia trip on that.”
Sanders wouldn’t say on Friday whether Trump believes the women accusing Moore of impropriety, but did reiterate that the President finds the charges “extremely troubling” and believes that it is up to “the governor and … the people in the state of Alabama to make a determination on whether or not they delay that election or whether or not they support and vote for Roy Moore.”