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'I believe the president': GOP stands by Trump on sexual assault allegation

POLITICO logo POLITICO 6/25/2019 By Melanie Zanona and Burgess Everett
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Republicans believe Donald Trump. They're not so sure about the woman.

The president’s GOP allies in Congress are moving swiftly to dismiss new rape accusations against him, arguing journalist E. Jean Carroll is eager to promote her new book and that Trump’s denial of the alleged attack is credible.

“Quite honestly, as somebody who had a front-row seat to the Kavanaugh hearings, we’ve seen allegations that were false,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). “We’ll let the facts go where they are, but I take [Trump's] statement at face value.”

“Many times when folks have made these allegations they’re also promoting a book,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “The accuser and the accused need to be treated with respect and they each need to be afforded due process. Just because you’re accused of something in America doesn’t mean you’re guilty.”

The latest accusation, dismissed summarily by Trump on Monday, is just the latest in more than a dozen other allegations that have dogged the president and put his party in an awkward spot.

Republicans fled from Trump during the 2016 campaign when the “Access Hollywood” tape was released showing the president bragging about sexual assault. But since he was elected, they have largely stood by the president amid the drip-drip of allegations of misconduct over the years.

a man wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Writer E. Jean Carroll accused President Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her in a department store in the mid-1990s. © Craig Ruttle/AP Photo Writer E. Jean Carroll accused President Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her in a department store in the mid-1990s. Carroll’s claim that the president raped her in a dressing room 23 years ago is no different for many members of the GOP. Trump said she’s “not my type” and that he didn’t do it, and the Republican Party is generally sticking with him.

“All I would say: We live in an environment where people can come forward. That’s good. But allegations like this have to be cautiously reviewed,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) with a slight eye roll. Trump was “firm. Unequivocal. I have no reason not to” believe him.

Retiring Rep. Susan Brooks, the head of recruitment efforts for the House GOP’s campaign arm, said she wasn’t following the controversy closely. But the Indiana lawmaker — one of just 13 Republican women in the House — did say that she has heard “there are huge, significant issues about [Carroll’s] credibility.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that he believes Trump’s denial of the allegations but declined to weigh in any further.

“I’ve never met her, I understand what the president said, so I know nothing more about this issue,” the California Republican told reporters during a weekly press conference. “I know the president said this is not true.”

When pressed on whether he believes Trump, McCarthy responded, “Yes, I believe the president.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to address the allegations at his weekly press conference.

Kevin McCarthy wearing a suit and tie: WASHINGTON, DC - January 18: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at a news conference announcing a new division on Conscience and Religious Freedom at the Department of Health and Human Services January 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. The new division, part of the department's Office of Civil Rights, will aide medical professionals who object to certain procedures on religious grounds. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images) © Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - January 18: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at a news conference announcing a new division on Conscience and Religious Freedom at the Department of Health and Human Services January 18, 2018 in Washington, DC. The new division, part of the department's Office of Civil Rights, will aide medical professionals who object to certain procedures on religious grounds. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

There was, however, some unease in the GOP with the president’s defense this week. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that Trump’s “not my type” remark was “extremely bizarre.”

“Seemed like a weird way to dismiss something, but it’s not a usual president,” conceded Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

And several Senate Republicans said the allegations should be taken seriously, including Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mike Braun of Indiana and Mitt Romney of Utah. That doesn’t mean they doubt the president, but they were taking great pains to avoid summarily dismissing Carroll’s specific claims, which included allegations against other powerful men.

“Anybody that makes an accusation like that should come forward, but there obviously has to be some additional information. They need to interview her, they need to visit with him,” said Ernst, who said earlier this year that she was raped in college.

“The accusation is of a very serious nature. And it deserves to be considered and evaluated,” Romney said. “The president indicated that this [did] not occur and that’s, I think, the strongest point.”

Trump’s alleged sexual assaults are certainly not a favorite topic of discussion for the GOP.

POLITICO spoke to 16 Republican senators and a half-dozen House members, the majority of whom offered little on the subject. Many said no comment and continued on their day, and several said that they were unaware of the allegations and had only seen news coverage in passing.

"I don't know anything about that. I don't know what you're talking about,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

“The president has denied it. He’s spoken on it,” offered Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “I have nothing else to add.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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