Donald Trump has declared “I was wrong and I apologise” after being caught on tape making vulgar and sexually charged comments about women.
However, the Republican presidential hopeful also defiantly dismissed the revelations as “nothing more than a distraction” from a decade ago, and signalled he would close his presidential campaign by arguing that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton has committed greater sins against women.
“I’ve said some foolish things,” Mr Trump said in a video posted on his Facebook page early on Saturday.
“But there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people. Bill Clinton has actually abused women and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.”
Mr Trump’s 90-second statement capped a jarring day which threatened to sink the billionaire businessman’s White House campaign, and sent Republicans into a panic as the November 8 election nears and the candidates prepare for Sunday’s crucial debate
One by one, outraged Republican figures condemned Mr Trump’s comments in a 2005 video obtained and released by The Washington Post and NBC News.
In the video, Mr Trump is heard describing attempts to have sex with a married woman. He also brags about women letting him kiss and grab them because he is famous.
“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything,” Mr Trump says in the previously unaired comments. He adds seconds later: “Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was “sickened” by Mr Trump’s remarks. Mr Ryan also revoked an invitation for the billionaire to appear at a party event in Wisconsin. However – like many Republican politicians who criticised Mr Trump’s remarks – Mr Ryan did not remove his endorsement.
But for many Republican figures, Mr Trump has gone too far. “You, sir, are the distraction,” Utah senator Mike Lee told him in a video posted to his Facebook page after the apology. “Your conduct, sir, is the distraction.”
Mrs Clinton, who did not campaign on Friday while she prepared for the debate, said on Twitter that Mr Trump’s comments were “horrific”.
She added: “We cannot allow this man to become president.”
For more than a year, Mr Trump’s outrageous comments have caused alarm in the Republican party. Officials have at least nominally thrown their support behind him – but there are some notable exceptions, including nearly all the party’s living past presidents and White House nominees.
Even before Friday’s revelations, Mr Trump was struggling to steady his campaign. He had an uneven performance in the first debate and in the following days became mired in a feud with a beauty queen he had shamed for gaining weight.
On the latest video, Mr Trump is caught on a live microphone while talking with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood. The candidate is heard saying: “I did try and f*** her. She was married.” He also uses graphic terms to describe the woman’s body and says he frequently tries to kiss beautiful women.
Access Hollywood said a story about Mr Trump’s lewd behind-the-scenes comments as star of The Apprentice led it to dig through its archives and turn up the previously unaired footage from 2005. It was recorded during a bus ride while Mr Trump was on his way to tape an episode of the soap opera Days Of Our Lives.
Mr Trump issued a short apology on Friday afternoon, saying he was sorry “if anyone was offended”. As he did hours later, he shifted attention toward the Clintons, saying former US president Bill Clinton “has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close”.
The Republican desperately needs a stand-out performance in Sunday’s debate.
As Friday became consumed by Mr Trump’s vulgarity, Republicans bemoaned another lost opportunity to chip away at Mrs Clinton after the WikiLeaks organisation posted what it said were thousands of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, including some with excerpts from speeches she gave to Wall Street executives and others.
She has declined to release the speeches despite demands from Mr Trump.
The excerpts include Mrs Clinton seeming to put herself in the free-trade camp, a position she has retreated from. In a talk to a Brazilian bank in 2013, she said her dream was “a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders”.