Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Access Hollywood tape rises from the ether at New York hush-money trial, serving as a reminder that Trump is grossly unqualified to be president, and his followers are drunk on some mighty powerful Kool-Aid

Donald Trump on Access Hollywood tape (NBC)

The video that should have ended Donald Trump's political career came back to bite him last week when it was raised at his New York hush-money trial. The topic didn't bite Trump hard enough because he's still standing as a major political figure, and he's conducting a 2024 presidential campaign that threatens to end American democracy and throw the country, and the world, into chaos and instability.

The video in question caught Trump bragging about grabbing women in private parts of their bodies on Access Hollywood, It apparently has not had its full effect because chunks of the American electorate are too weak minded or have such shaky ethics that they are willing to forgive most any outrage that Trump commits. The infamous video serves as a reminder that Trump is an overgrown toddler -- who treats others with disrespect, dishonesty, and a disregard for the law (in this instance, Trump was caught on tape engaging in schoolboy braggadocio about committing sexual assault.) Now that the tape has come up in the hush-money case, which involves Trump's alleged extramarital adventures with a porn star, it could hang over the presidential election  until early November and swing the election against him.

Zachary B. Wolf, senior political writer at CNN, examines the possible impact of the Access Hollywood tape under the headline "The moment Trump defied gravity is coming back to haunt him." Wolf writes:

Being elected president shortly after surviving the publication of the leaked Access Hollywood tape in 2016 is the moment in which Donald Trump defied political gravity.

A politician was heard on tape saying truly disgusting things about women and yet was still elevated by voters to the nation's highest office. Trump’s ability to survive that embarrassing episode echoes in his re-ascendance to the Republican presidential nomination for a third time, despite losing the 2020 election and then trying to overturn the results.

It’s easy to forget how dumbfounding it was to hear Trump on that tape for the first time and how many Republicans who called on him to drop out of the presidential race back then now support him.

If the embarrassing tape somehow represents Trump’s greatest triumph, it is also something that continues to haunt him, as it became the focus of his hush-money criminal trial in New York last Friday.

The Access Hollywood tape came up in the hush-money trial during the testimony of former Trump press secretary Hope Hicks. She was unable, or unwilling, to sugarcoat just how damning the tape was for Trump's political future. Now, we know, via trial evidence, that Trump was determined to pay off former porn star Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence regarding an article in the National Enquirer that threatened to torpedo Trump's political hopes. because it likely would have come on the heels of the Access Hollywood video. In short, Trump was willing to pay a porn star in order to minimize the impact of a video in which he brags about committing sexual assault. Does anyone with functioning brain cells really believe such an individual is fit to serve in the White House? This is a guy who simply does not have the dignity and self-control to stay out of sex-related imbroglios -- not to mention all kinds of other dubious activities that form the basis for the other three pending criminal cases against him. Wolf writes:

Trump’s 2016 victory in the Electoral College seems only more improbable in the retelling. Hicks, his former close aide, told jurors about what must have been the unbelievably awkward moment she read a transcript of the Access Hollywood tape – in which he brags about being able to grope women – to her boss.

“This was a crisis,” she said of the tape's impact on the campaign. It’s sordid stuff, and the outlines were generally known even without Hicks’ testimony on Friday. The judge in the case ruled at the start of the trial that the tape itself can’t be played in court, but it has been described.

It is worth revisiting the earthquake the Access Hollywood tape set off in the 2016 campaign. When the video came out, it left many people speechless.

The tape was recorded in 2005, and it was leaked to The Washington Post, which published the video on October 7, 2016, a little more than a month before Election Day. Trump is heard talking about trying, unsuccessfully, to “move on” an unnamed, married woman, and then crassly talks about his uncontrollable desire to kiss an actress he is about to meet with then Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he told Bush. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p****.”

Women went to the polls and voted for Trump after hearing this? Men who supposedly care about women supported Trump then, and still support him now, despite hearing those ghastly words?  It makes you wonder if many on the far right have sold what's left of their souls to enjoy the status of entering MAGA World. Is there really that much status to it? As Wolf writes, fallout from the tape was immediate and seemingly sincere. In fact the language on the tape was so gross that even Trump apologized, perhaps a first for him:

Multiple Republicans who today are completely behind Trump, like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, called on him in 2016 to immediately step down. The perception inside Trump’s inner circle was that most Republican lawmakers wanted him off the ticket, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie later wrote in a memoir.

Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was “sickened.” And then-Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thought Trump should either resign or would lose in a landslide, according to Christie and then-Trump aide Steve Bannon.

Even Trump’s wife, Melania, who rarely issues public statements, expressed her disgust with the words on the tape, although she would later write it off as “boy talk.”

Things were so grim back then that Trump issued what is probably the only apology of his political career in a straight-to-camera video posted on Twitter, now X, in which he admits the tape is real and takes responsibility.

“I said it. I was wrong. And I apologize,” Trump said, although he made it clear he would not leave the race. Being exposed to people on the campaign trail had changed him, Trump said, before trying to draw an equivalence between his words and allegations against former President Bill Clinton.

I’ve written before about how rare it is to hear such a thing from Trump.

Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent in 2016, wound up dealing with her own set of peculiar problems, and it has never been fully clear how they came about:

Trump’s Democratic rival in 2016, Hillary Clinton, faced her own unwanted surprises, the most important of which was former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement that July that she was “careless” in handling classified data on email.

Worse for Clinton, on October 28 of that year, a little more than a week before Election Day, Comey told Congress the FBI was reviewing emails related to Clinton’s personal server found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, a disgraced former congressman married to her top aide.

Clinton would go on to get the vote of a larger number of people, but Trump, surprising even himself, would get the White House.

How did the Access Hollywood tape rise from the dust in the hush-money case. Wolf has details:

Now, the Access Hollywood tape is back. A key to prosecutors’ case against Trump is their allegation that he and his former fixer Michael Cohen agreed to pay off adult-film star Stormy Daniels to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Trump had to tamp down on any allegations of impropriety, such as having an alleged affair with a porn star while his wife was pregnant. That led to the hush money Cohen paid to Daniels.

Cohen served time in federal prison for violating campaign finance law with the payments. The crime Trump is accused of is falsifying business records related to his reimbursement of Cohen after the election.

Meanwhile, Trump came up with some outlandish excuses in an apparent effort to draw attention away from his words that were caught on tape:

Trump has since questioned whether it was his voice on the tape, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin reported for The New York Times in 2017. More recently, Trump was asked in May 2023 about the tape by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. He tried to parse the words in the tape.

“I said, ‘women let you,’” he told Collins. “I didn’t say ‘grab,’” he said, misquoting the tape.  Trump's attempt at obfuscation did not fly very well in TV land.

This was Trump resorting to his No. 1 tactic -- lying -- when trying to extricate himself from trouble that a wiser man (or woman) would have easily avoided. Supporters actually think an inveterate liar is fit to serve as president. If that's the case, it makes you wonder about the MAGAs' own honesty -- or lack thereof.

The tape, Wolf writes, helped Republicans fall deeper into the pit that Donald Trump dug for them:

Bannon would later tell former CBS journalist Charlie Rose that the Access Hollywood  moment was important because it separated Republicans into those who would be loyal to Trump versus those who were part of the mainstream. Christie lost out on a Cabinet position in Trump’s administration due to his revulsion of the tape, Bannon told Rose.(We should note that Steve Bannon doesn't even seem to know how take a shower, so perhaps we should not take his words too seriously.)

In the years since, loyalty to Trump has become an increasingly important marker among Republicans as Trump beat back a deep field of presidential primary challengers.

Perceived loyalty to Trump could become a de facto requirement for many federal workers if he wins in 2024 and carries through with a plan to reclassify a large portion of the federal bureaucracy as political appointees, according a recent report by CNN’s investigative team.

Will the arisen Access Hollywood tape wind up haunting Trump and his campaign. All sentient beings, in the U.S. and around the world, should hope so. Trump and his ridiculous MAGA movement are a pox on America's body politic, and they need to be wiped from our radar permanently. Wolf summarizes:

If the tape is evidence of Trump’s ability to defy political gravity, it has also contributed to his humbling in other areas.

A deposition in which he was asked about the tape was played for jurors who later found him liable for sexually abusing E. Jean Carroll, a former magazine columnist, in a New York department store in the 1990s. Juries ordered Trump to pay more than $80 million for defaming her, although he has appealed those decisions.

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