By Emily Stephenson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Republicans on Friday grappled with a bombshell 2005 audiotape published by The Washington Post in which Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump boasted in vulgar terms about trying to have sex with an unnamed married woman and groping women, saying “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who slammed Trump’s comments as “horrific,” was also hit by a leak on Friday. Wikileaks published what appeared to be excerpts of her paid speeches to corporations, the transcripts of which the campaign has refused to release. The transcripts included comments by Clinton on trade that could be troubling for her.
The disclosures come just a month before the Nov. 8 presidential election, and two days before the second televised debate between Clinton and Trump. The disclosures threaten Trump’s already shaky standing with women and reinforce doubts among Democrats that Clinton will crack down on Wall Street.
Trump’s leaked comments spurred a flood of indignation and came at what some have seen as a potentially pivotal point. Sunday’s presidential debate, a town hall-style event, is seen as critical as Trump tries to rebound from a dip in some opinion polls after a rocky performance in the first debate.
“No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican elected official, said he was “sickened” by the comments and said Trump would not attend a campaign event in Wisconsin with him on Saturday.
“I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests,” Ryan said in a statement
Trump in a statement shrugged off the leaked tape as “locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago.”
In the recorded conversation, Trump was wearing a microphone and chatting on a bus with Billy Bush, then host of NBC’s “Access Hollywood,” ahead of a segment they were about to tape.
“I did try and fuck her. She was married,” Trump said. “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there.”
Trump talked about his attraction to beautiful women. “I just start kissing them,” he said.
“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” he said.
“Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”
Trump, who has brought up former President Bill Clinton’s infidelities as a criticism of Hillary Clinton, calling her a “total enabler,” responded to the audio.
“Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended,” Trump said.
“Access Hollywood” confirmed the video in its own report, saying it discovered the comments in its library.
Billy Bush, in a statement to Variety, said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” of his comments.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who lost to Trump in the Republican presidential primaries – and who is a cousin to Billy Bush – tweeted that the comments were “reprehensible.”
Mitt Romney, who was the Republican candidate in the 2012 election – and who has long opposed Trump, said his comments were “vile degradations” that “demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”
Meanwhile, Wikileaks published what appeared to be speech excerpts that could give Trump new fodder for attacking Clinton, who in them voices support for open trade and borders and discusses taking different positions in public than in private.
The U.S. government on Friday formally accused Russia of hacking Democratic Party organizations ahead of the presidential election. Wikileaks has declined to name its sources.
A spokesman for the Clinton campaign declined to confirm whether the Wikileaks emails were authentic and noted that other hacked documents have been faked.
“Earlier today the U.S. government removed any reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has weaponized Wikileaks to meddle in our election and benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy,” said Glen Caplin, the spokesman.
The emails were among hundreds of messages Wikileaks published from the hacked account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
Clinton has struggled with issues of trustworthiness after a lingering controversy over her use of a private email system while serving as secretary of State.
During her primary campaign against populist rival Bernie Sanders, she resisted calls to release transcripts of 92 paid speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs and other corporations for which she was paid more than $20 million.
In a 2013 speech to a trade group, she talked about the necessity of working with lobbyists, according to the hacked email.
“But if everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position,” she said, according to the leaked email.
“It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be,” she said.
Ninety minutes after his statement condemning Trump’s leaked remarks, the RNC’s Priebus issued another one slamming Clinton’s leaked excerpts.
“The truth that has been exposed here is that the persona Hillary Clinton has adopted for her campaign is a complete and utter fraud,” Priebus said in the statement.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Emily Flitter in New York, Ayesha Rascoe in Chicago, Eric Beech and Mohammed Zargham in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)
IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump meets with leadership members of the National Border Patrol Council while receiving the group’s endorsement during a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar