ST. LOUIS — Donald Trump launched a surprise attack an hour before the presidential debate Sunday, broadcasting on Facebook a panel discussion with three women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sexual assault.
Appearing at a conference room in a hotel near the debate site, Mr. Trump was seated next to the the three women — Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey — who for years have accused Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s husband rape or sexual assault.
A fourth woman on the panel, Kathy Shelton, has spoken out against Mrs. Clinton, who as an attorney defended the man who raped her when she was 12 years old, and allegedly laughed at getting him a light sentence despite knowing he was guilty.
“These four very courageous women have asked to be here, and it was our honor to help them,” said Mr. Trump.
The stunt signaled Mr. Trump’s plans to hit back hard in the debate after his campaign suffered dire wounds from a 2005 video tape that surfaced Friday in which he banters about his womanizing and boasts about getting away with groping women because of his celebrity status.
“Actions speak louder than words,” said Ms. Broaddrick, who accused Mr. Clinton of raping her in 1978. “Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don’t think there’s any comparison.”
A reporter asked Mr. Trump why he said he could touch women without their consent, setting off Ms. Jones.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, also challenged Mrs. Clinton to show that she truly believes — as the former secretary of state wrote on Twitter a year ago — that “every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believe, and supported.”
“We agree @Hillaryclinton,” Ms. Conway said on Twitter. “Does that go for Juanita, Kathleen, Kathy and Paula? If so, acknowledge them from the stage tonight. #girlpower.”
Mrs. Clinton appeared to respond on Twitter, writing “remember” and posting a clip from First Lady Michelle Obama’s address at the Democratic National Convention, where she said “When they go low, we go high.”
Trump surrogates also drove home the same message on cable news networks, pushing back against the idea that this was a political stunt, and arguing these women’s stories could sway millennial voters.
“There are many women out there — 20 percent of my generation — who saw that and it is the first time they heard this story,” Kayleigh McEnany said on a CNN panel. “This is a victory for every victim of sexual assault that these women were heard tonight and they were believed.”
• Seth McLaughlin in Washington contributed to this report.
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