Home Culture Are Trump’s Boasts About Sexual Assault a Legal Admission of Wrongdoing?

Are Trump’s Boasts About Sexual Assault a Legal Admission of Wrongdoing?

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Donald Trump, Arianne Zucker, and Billy Bush in the 2005 Access Hollywood video.

Washington Post via Getty Images

Last week, tapes surfaced of Donald Trump boasting in 2005 about grabbing women by their genitals, without their consent. As many legal observers were quick to point out, this was more than just “lewd talk”—Trump was bragging about sexual assault. Since those comments have surfaced, and after Trump batted them away as mere talk at the debate last week, insisting he had never once grabbed a woman without her consent, accusers have been quick to come forward with multiple damning reports of unwanted kissing, touching, and groping from the Republican nominee. It now appears that Trump is exactly what he was angling to look like: a serial predator.

Dahlia Lithwick Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate, and hosts the podcast Amicus.

One question that keeps arising is whether Trump’s statements to Billy Bush in 2005 represent any kind of legally binding admission of legal wrongdoing. Are they in themselves evidence of Trump’s abuse?


I asked several prominent legal authorities whether Trump’s statements alone represent any kind of legal admission of wrongdoing for purposes of a future lawsuit. My suspicion was that mere boasting attached to no victim was inadmissible. Here are their answers:

Jeannie Suk Gersen, who teaches criminal law at Harvard and wants to clarify that she in no way defends Trump, puts it this way:

I don’t see how his statement alone could possibly be a basis for prosecution—unless we criminalize bragging, which I hope your colleagues are not advocating. (Trump might also characterize his “boasts” as marketing, since aggressive sexism seems to be part of his brand.) But here’s a question: If a particular woman came forward with particular allegations of assault, might his remarks be admissible in a civil action or criminal prosecution? I don’t think there’s any allegation that the tape was made in violation of his privacy or distributed illegally. I’d ask a defense attorney or civil litigator for a definitive answer.

The consensus view here seems to be that standing alone, nothing in Trump’s 2005 bus boast would likely be considered a legally admissible statement admitting a crime. But it’s useful to note—as lawyers for the New York Times did on Thursday—that it makes Trump’s recent claims that his character has been defamed by his accusers awfully hard to swallow.

Also published on Medium.

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