Trump's Infamous Access Hollywood Leaked Tape Scandal Fully Explained

Donald Trump's "hush money" trial is historically important for several reasons. But most crucially, this is the first time an American president has ever gone to court on federal charges. The case against Trump, which focuses on an alleged deliberate misrepresentation of funds paid through the Trump Organization, could hurt his 2024 re-election campaign. But the real draw for many is the backstory. The prosecution is arguing that the former president's team did damage control to uphold his reputation, the better to help him win the 2016 election. To that end, they allegedly paid off tabloid publisher American Media not to run articles about his reported affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels (Daniels, who testified against him, notably wore a bulletproof vest to court out of fear for her safety.) 

According to Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, another witness for the prosecution, the decision was made after a separate, but similarly embarrassing, incident went public. In 2005, the real estate mogul gave an interview to "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush while on his way to tape an episode of "Days of Our Lives." The two were wearing microphones as they traveled on a show bus to the NBC lot. In a very NSFW conversation, Trump admitted to trying to seduce Bush's co-host, Nancy O'Dell, then went on to brag about his power over women. He joked about popping Tic Tacs just in case he spotted a lady he wanted to kiss. " I don't even wait," Trump boasted (via the BBC). "And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything. [...] Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything." 

The infamous tape almost ended Donald Trump's political career

Just two days before Trump was scheduled to debate Hillary Clinton, his democratic rival for the presidency, the Washington Post approached his campaign team. A reporter had gotten hold of the "Access Hollywood" tape and was asking for a response before the story ran. According to the book "American Carnage," as excerpted by Politico, Trump at first denied making the offensive comments, but after hearing the audio file, he admitted, "Well, that's me." The Post ran the bombshell story, sending prominent GOP members into a full-on panic. Even Mike Pence was reportedly disgusted with his running mate. Many Republicans tried to pressure then-Republican National Committee chairman Rience Priebus into removing Trump from the campaign. 

Instead, the presidential hopeful's aides helped him tape a statement for social media. Trump apologized — "Anyone who knows me know these words don't reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize" — and then went on to criticize Hillary and Bill Clinton. It wasn't enough to persuade the party, but he refused to drop out. The controversial politician went ahead with the debate, and was ready to respond when the subject of the tape came up. "I'm not proud of it," Trump said, "But this is locker room talk. [...] I have great respect for women. Nobody has more respect for women than I do." But the fight wasn't over yet. Knowing he might have other secrets to hide, Trump's team worked diligently behind the scenes to keep his election chances alive.

Melania Trump reportedly helped get Donald past the controversy

During the hush money trial, attorney Michael Cohen detailed Donald Trump's plan to recover from the fallout of the "Access Hollywood" story. As reported by the New York Post, Cohen revealed, "We needed to put a spin on this, and the spin he wanted to put on it was that this is locker room talk." He went on to claim that the former "Apprentice" host asserted that his wife, Melania Trump, had either come up with the idea, or else she had personally dismissed the crude remarks as harmless banter. This response certainly suggests that Melania and Donald are more united in the midst of this mess than previously thought.

If you're wondering why anyone would bring up the "Access Hollywood" tape in court at all, the prosecution introduced it as the catalyst for the hush money arrangement. Trump's reputation had already been seriously hurt by his "grab 'em..." remarks; having the tabloids report on his alleged encounter with Stormy Daniels would almost certainly kill his chances at the November polls. Cohen, along with American Media publisher David Pecker, testified that they arranged a "catch-and-kill" agreement in which the publisher would agree not to report on the story, and Daniels would be paid not to say anything to the press.

The Post suggested that the defense will ultimately argue the payment to Daniels had nothing to do with the election and everything to do with protecting Melania's feelings and the Trumps' already troubled marriage, but it remains to be seen whether this will work in the end. Either way, get your popcorn ready.