Donald Trump’s lawyer and top aide apologized Tuesday after he ensnared the candidate in fresh controversy by responding to years-old rape allegations against Trump — since retracted — by saying that sexual intercourse with a spouse can never legally be considered rape.
“As an attorney, husband and father there are many injustices that offend me but nothing more than charges of rape or racism,” Michael Cohen told CNN. “They hit me at my core. Rarely am I surprised by the press, but the gall of this particular reporter to make such a reprehensible and false allegation against Mr. Trump truly stunned me. In my moment of shock and anger, I made an inarticulate comment — which I do not believe — and which I apologize for entirely.”
Cohen had responded angrily earlier to questions about a 1989 incident, and his comments quickly sparked an uproar.
“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody,” Michael Cohen, Trump’s special counsel and a longtime aide, reportedly told the Daily Beast in response to its reporting on allegations in the early 1990s that Trump raped his then wife Ivana Trump. “And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse.”
“It is true,” Cohen added. “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”
Prohibitions against spousal rape were actually enacted in the 1970s, and it was illegal in all 50 states by the early 1990s. It became illegal in New York State in 1984. Ivana originally made the comments in a deposition surrounding their divorce, she told CNN in a statement Tuesday, saying at the time that she felt “violated” by a 1989 incident between the couple. But Ivana disavowed the accusation Tuesday in response to the Daily Beast report.
“I have recently read some comments attributed to me from nearly 30 years ago at a time of very high tension during my divorce from Donald,” she told CNN. “The story is totally without merit. Donald and I are the best of friends and together have raised three children that we love and are very proud of. I have nothing but fondness for Donald and wish him the best of luck on his campaign. Incidentally, I think he would make an incredible President.”
The controversy over Cohen’s comments come as Donald Trump has ridden incendiary rhetoric on immigration and other issues to the top of national polls for the Republican nomination. The latest batch of polls showed no sign of his momentum being halted, even as Republican leaders have condemned him in growing numbers after he said Arizona Senator and Vietnam War–era POW John McCain is “not a war hero.”
Ivana’s original comments about feeling “violated,” according to the Daily Beast, were originally published in the 1993 book, Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump. But even before that book was published, she walked back the notion that what happened between them was “rape.”
“During a deposition given by me in connection with my matrimonial case, I stated that my husband had raped me,” she reportedly said at the time. “On one occasion during 1989, Mr. Trump and I had marital relations in which he behaved very differently toward me than he had during our marriage. As a woman, I felt violated, as the love and tenderness, which he normally exhibited towards me, was absent. I referred to this as a ‘rape,’ but I do not want my words to be interpreted in a literal or criminal sense.”
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told CNN that the candidate “didn’t know of [Cohen’s] comments but disagrees with them.”
Cohen, for his part, threatened the Daily Beast with legal action and financial ruin, the website reported.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse,” Cohen was quoted as saying. “And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I’m warning you, tread very f—ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. You understand me?”