The series of reports breaking Wednesday that detailed specific allegations of sexual assault by Donald Trump over a span of three decades might never have happened if not for the work of CNN’s Anderson Cooper during Sunday’s presidential debate.
The New York Times, which reported on two women who say they were forcibly touched by Trump, notes in its story it was Cooper’s questioning of Trump in the debate that convinced them to step forward:
When Mr. Trump denied having ever sexually assaulted women, in response to a question from Anderson Cooper of CNN, Ms. Ross said she immediately looked at Ms. Leeds in disbelief. “Now we know he lied straight up,” Ms. Ross recalled saying.
One of the authors of the Times story, Michael Barbaro, said, “this story might not have happened unless Anderson Cooper had asked the pointed questions he did at debate.”
That questioning came early in the debate, when Cooper asked about the Access Hollywood video released two days earlier, in which Trump seems to brag about kissing and touching women without their consent. Cooper asked:
You called what you said locker room banter. You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?
Trump repeated the reference to “locker room talk” and tried to change the subject to ISIS, but Cooper continued to pull him back, attempting—and ultimately succeeding—in getting Trump on the record denying ever having sexually assaulted anyone:
COOPER: So, Mr. Trump…
TRUMP: And we should get on to much more important things and much bigger things.
COOPER: Just for the record, though, are you saying that what you said on that bus 11 years ago that you did not actually kiss women without consent or grope women without consent?
TRUMP: I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do.
COOPER: So, for the record, you’re saying you never did that?
TRUMP: I’ve said things that, frankly, you hear these things I said. And I was embarrassed by it. But I have tremendous respect for women.
COOPER: Have you ever done those things?
TRUMP: And women have respect for me. And I will tell you: No, I have not.
That “no, I have not” opened the door for the conflicting accounts to be reported by The Times, BuzzFeed, The Palm Beach Post, People and elsewhere.