“Don’t feel sorry for me. I can handle everything," Melania Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday.
The Republican nominee dispatched his wife to speak on his behalf on television for the first time since the Republican convention in July. Senior staff, meanwhile, provided detailed guidance to foot soldiers in battleground states on how to respond to voters concerned about Donald Trump’s treatment of women.
Asked about polls that show that more than 60% of voters believe Trump has made unwanted sexual advances toward women, Melania Trump said she wanted the public to know that “he would never do that." She also said that the allegations from 10 different women accusing her husband of sexual misconduct were concocted by the media and the Clinton campaign to try and derail Trump’s presidential bid.
“Everything was organized and put together to hurt him, to hurt his candidacy," Melania Trump said.
As for the video that captured her husband boasting of his unwanted sexual advances, she portrayed her husband’s remarks to “Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush as “boy talk."
“They were kind of a boy talk, and he was [led] on, like egg[ed] on, by the host to say dirty and bad stuff," she said.
Since delivering a speech at July’s Republican National Convention that contained a passage plagiarized from remarks delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama, Melania Trump has largely avoided speaking to the press. She has attended both presidential debates, but after the details of her immigration to the US came under scrutiny and her husband promised in early August that she would soon hold a news conference to prove she had legally worked in the country in 1995 as a model, she has yet to do so.
The plan of attack
Trump and his top allies argued strenuously Monday that other stories deserved more attention, whether it was his concerns about a “rigged" election or pointing to new e-mails that could potentially cut into the comfortable—though not insurmountable—lead of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The campaign is banking that years of pent-up frustration against Washington will reset the race.
“Those words, they were offensive to me and they were inappropriate," Melania Trump said in an earlier interview on Fox News, referring to a tape of him talking to a television host about groping women. “I accept his apology, and we are moving on."
State directors of key battleground states—including Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Iowa and North Carolina—are being urged to firmly deny the allegations before shifting the discussion to Clinton.
“All of the allegations are false and several have already been fully debunked," according to a copy of the campaign talking points obtained by Bloomberg. “Mr. Trump is being forced to disprove things that didn’t happen, whereas the media is allowing these accusers to hold court without ANY evidence."
Trump is struggling to make headway in a dozen battleground states in the wake the disclosure of a decade-old videotape in which the billionaire, then 59, bragged about forcing himself on women and then the reports from several women that he did just that to them.
Wisconsin is one state where he’s trailing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. She leads there by 6 points, according to a rolling average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com.
Like at his rallies on Friday and Saturday, Trump in Wisconsin on Monday night couldn’t completely drop the subject of sex.
He called the allegations “all false stuff" and said there’s now a backlash.
“Events that never happened, just so you know. It’s amazing. I think most people do believe me," he told an audience of about 3,000 people at a convention center ballroom in Green Bay. “We are having and it’s in our favor, a backlash like people have never seen before."
Trump said the media “want to put sexy headlines up even though nothing happened. They’ve got to start talking about Wikileaks."
Trump tried to turn attention to news that a State Department official repeatedly tried to get the FBI not to mark an email from Clinton’s private server as classified.
According to notes released Monday from interviews conducted during an FBI investigation, undersecretary of state Patrick Kennedy in 2015 “pressured" FBI officials to declassify information in one email.
There was talk about a deal, or a “quid pro quo" arrangement if the FBI would change the classification of the e-mail, which was marked “secret," the unnamed FBI official said. “In exchange for marking the email unclassified, State would reciprocate by allowing the FBI to place more Agents in countries where they were presently forbidden," the official said.
Trump on Monday night at a campaign rally in Wisconsin said the State Department was trying to cover-up Clinton’s “crime of sending classified information on a server our enemies could easily access by trying to reverse the classification."
“This is felony corruption by any standard," he said.
Kennedy “needs to resign," Trump said.
Trump said he’d “end government corruption." He unveiled an ethics reform proposal that would ask Congress to pass legislation to ban executive branch officials from lobbying the federal government for five years after leaving office.
He said he’d expand the definition of “lobbyist" to “close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labeling themselves consultants and advisers when we all know they are lobbyists."
Trump would also seek a lifetime ban against senior executive branch officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government, and will try to prevent registered foreign lobbyists from raising money in US elections.
Trump held a private meet-and-greet with invited supporters, and local media interviews, before his Green Bay rally, according to a campaign aide. Several GOP leaders introduced Trump, including Wisconsin GOP Chairman Brad Courtney; former Green Bay Packers football player Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila; retired Army Lt.Gen. Keith Kellogg and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, who tweeted on Saturday that instead of complaining about corrupt media and government, it’s “pitchforks and torches time."
During the introductions at the rally, the crowd burst into a “Paul Ryan sucks" chant, referring to the House Speaker, a Wisconsin native, who said a week ago that he will no longer defend Trump.
Since his lewd comments to “Access Hollywood" in 2005 emerged, the campaign’s attempts to change the subject have been mixed at best. Polls show he has lost ground in most battleground states, but the campaign note that he remains within striking distance in some of them.
Campaign volunteer Marlene Furgiuele-Mentzer, 58, said that it’s “been a rough week to be a Trump campaign volunteer." Furgiuele-Mentzer is a lifelong Republican in suburban-Philadelphia who has been knocking on doors and phone-banking for the campaign.
“The comments that he made on that tape are disgusting. I don’t defend it. But I’m still voting for him based on his policies, and people—when they tend to get away from the emotion of it—tend to agree," she said. She says that her field office director has helped her to “share my story" about the issues that are important to her for why she’s supporting Trump, particularly when voters bring up the accusations against him.
She said she describes the accusations as a “distraction" designed to keep the focus off Clinton’s policies. She said she asks voters, “Don’t you find it interesting that all you’re hearing is mudslinging and no one is talking about Hillary Clinton’s policies?"
Jason Simmons, the campaign director for North Carolina, echoed the outreach strategy.
“We tell our volunteers is to simply tell their story about why they’re still supporting Trump. Everybody has their own set of reasons," he said. Bloomberg