ST. LOUIS — Donald Trump met publicly Sunday night with several women who have accused Bill Clinton of unwanted sexual advances and even rape, just 90 minutes before the Republican presidential nominee was stepping on the debate stage with the former president's wife, Hillary Clinton.
The event, which Trump hosted on Facebook Live, was billed as "pre-debate prep." In the video, which you can watch below, the four women — Paula Jones, Juanita Broderick, Kathleen Wiley and Kathy Shelton— introduced themselves and explained their accusation towards Clinton. Hillary Clinton served as the court-ordered defense attorney for Shelton’s rapist in 1975.
Bill Clinton never faced any criminal charges in relation to the allegations, and a lawsuit over an alleged rape was dismissed. He did settle a lawsuit with one of the women who claimed harassment.
All four women gave statements about their support for Mr. Trump.
At the end of the video, a reporter asked Trump about a video that surfaced on Friday from 1995 that showed Trump and NBC’s Billy Bush making lewd comments towards women. Paula Jones responded to the reporter with, "Why don't you ask Bill Clinton that?"
The Clinton campaign offered a statement about the conference, saying the campaign was “not surprised to see Donald Trump race to the bottom.”
Clinton calls Trump appearance with accusers continues "his destructive race to the bottom" pic.twitter.com/ZCR5mxkiaI— Steven D'Souza (@cbcsteve) October 10, 2016
The Trump pre-debate event was the clearest sign yet that he planned to use the former president's sexual history to try to distract from the swirling controversy over his own predatory remarks about women. Trump is under enormous pressure from the Republican Party after the release of a 2005 video in which the businessman can be heard saying his fame allows him to "do anything" to women.
Some of the women seated alongside Trump were graphic in their accusations against the Clintons.
"Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me," Broaddrick said. "I don't think there's any comparison."
Broaddrick, a former Arkansas nursing home administrator, first claimed 17 years ago that Bill Clinton raped her during a meeting in Little Rock in 1978. Her lawsuit against him was dismissed in 2001 and criminal charges were never filed. Clinton has denied the allegations.
Trump's stunt set up an extraordinary scene in the debate hall. His campaign said all four women planned to attend the event, with Bill Clinton also expected to be present.
Trump is trying to change the subject from his own conduct. Even before Friday's new revelations of his sexual remarks about women, his campaign was slumping. But the release of the 2005 video has some leading Republicans convinced the damage is insurmountable.
Even Trump's most loyal supporters struggled to defend him on Sunday.
"They're remarks you certainly don't want to hear from anyone, much less a presidential candidate," Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, said on CNN. "I think he made a full and complete apology for it. He probably is going to do it again tonight."
Trump's troubles have almost completely overshadowed the release of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign that revealed the contents of previously secret paid speeches to Wall Street. Clinton told bankers behind closed doors that she favored "open trade." Such remarks were at odds with her tough public comments.
Trump allies desperately hope the businessman can keep his focus in the debate on Clinton, raising questions about her trustworthiness and pushing his own populist economic ideas. The candidates will face questions in the town hall-style setting both from moderators and undecided voters seated with them on stage, a format that typically rewards candidates who show empathy and connect with the problems facing Americans.
But as Trump's meeting with Clinton's accusers indicated, he appeared to have other priorities.
Trump has long hinted he would raise Bill Clinton's sexual history at debates. In what was billed as a videotaped apology for the 2005 videotaped remarks, Trump said "Bill Clinton has actually abused women" and Hillary Clinton "bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated" her husband's "victims."
As early as last week, Trump had said he didn't plan to raise the issues on the debate stage. But that appeared to change in the hours after his own remarks were made public and a flood of Republicans began turning against him.
Trump's own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, has declared he could neither condone nor defend the remarks in the video revealed on Friday.
Other Republicans have taken the extraordinary step of revoking support for their party's nominee. Among them: Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte — both are running for re-election — and the party's 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Some called on Trump to quit the race.
"I thought about years from now when my daughter Kate is old enough to know what is in those tapes and to understand what he is talking about," Ayotte said of her 12-year-old daughter during a press conference Sunday. "I want her to know where I stood."
At a fundraiser in Chicago, President Barack Obama called Trump's rhetoric "disturbing." Obama said "it tells you that he's insecure enough that he pumps himself up by putting other people down."
Trump spent Sunday morning highlighting Twitter messages from supporters who slammed Republican leaders for abandoning him. In his own message, Trump said, "So many self-righteous hypocrites. Watch their poll numbers — and elections — go down!"
Republican leaders scheduled a rare Monday conference call for House GOP lawmakers, who are on recess. An email obtained by The Associated Press doesn't specify the topic, but rank-and-file lawmakers believe it's about Trump.
Contributing: Herb Scribner
Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.
Pace reported from Washington. AP writers Steve Peoples, Catherine Lucey, Jonathan Lemire, Laurie Kellman and Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report.