Trump appears before debate with women who accuse Bill Clinton of sex crimes

Hours before a make-or-break presidential debate, a defiant Donald Trump unleashed an aggressive — and politically dangerous — personal attack on Democrat Hillary Clinton on Sunday by seizing on unsubstantiated rape allegations levied against her husband years ago.

The campaign takes another nasty turn as Republicans distance themselves from Trump

Paula Jones, left, Kathleen Willey, centre, and Juanita Broaddrick, right, are seated for the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. Republican nominee Donald Trump referenced the women in his attacks on his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Hours before a make-or-break presidential debate, a defiant Donald Trump unleashed an aggressive — and politically dangerous — personal attack on Democrat Hillary Clinton on Sunday by seizing on unsubstantiated rape allegations levied against her husband years ago.

The pointed and unproven charge against Bill Clinton, outlined in an interview that Trump tweeted, marks a dramatic escalation of an already nasty campaign as Trump seeks to deflect fallout from his own sexually predatory comments.

The interview by the pro-Trump Breitbart website described Juanita Broaddrick reliving "brutal rapes." Her lawsuit against Clinton was dismissed in 2001 and criminal charges were never filed.

He has denied the allegations.

About 90 minutes before the debate, Trump held a Facebook live with the women.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, sits with, from right, Paula Jones, Kathy Shelton, Juanita Broaddrick, and Kathleen Willey, before the second presidential debate. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

The Trump event was an indication, later illustrated during the debate itself, that he planned to use Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs to try to distract from the swirling controversy over his own predatory remarks about women.

Trump refused to answer questions from reporters about the video during his meeting in a hotel conference room with Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey. Some of the women seated alongside him, however, were graphic in their accusations against the Clintons.

"Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me," Broaddrick said. "I don't think there's any comparison."

The women then appeared as guests of Trump at the debate at Washington University in St. Louis.

Broaddrick, a former Arkansas nursing home administrator, first claimed 17 years ago that Bill Clinton raped her during a meeting in Little Rock in 1978. 

Also at the event was Kathy Shelton. Hillary Clinton was appointed to represent Thomas Alfred Taylor, the 41-year-old man accused of raping Shelton decades ago when she was 12 years old. 

Shelton, now in her 50s, has accused Clinton of crossing ethical lines, and over the past few months, has given TV and video interviews slamming the now Democratic nominee.

Shortly after the event, Clinton's campaign stated it wasn't surprised Trump brought out the accusers, calling it a "stunt."

Shelton was paid $2,500 by a political action committee founded by Trump ally Roger Stone, The Associated Press has learned. The May payment to Shelton by the Committee to Restore America's Greatness PAC, founded by Stone, was described as "contract labour" in campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Asked by The Associated Press about the reason for the payment, Stone said in an email that Shelton "was extensively interviewed on video about her experience with Hillary Clinton and was paid for her time."

Shelton did not respond to a written request for comment left at her home in recent weeks by an AP reporter.

Stone is a former lobbyist for Trump, the GOP presidential nominee, and has boasted about his role as a bit player in the Watergate scandal. Stone served as a senior adviser to Trump's White House campaign in its early days. After separating from the campaign early last summer, Stone created a series of pro-Trump organizations. He has said he remains in direct touch with the candidate.

Stone has arranged to pay other women critical of the Clintons.

Trump keeps distance from PAC

Earlier this year, Stone sought to raise money to pay off the mortgage of Willey, who accused Bill Clinton of making unwanted sexual advances toward her during her time as a volunteer in his White House in the 1990s. Stone claimed in an online video interview that Trump had personally contributed to the fund.

Trump's campaign has not endorsed Stone's political action committee, and has sent the group a cease and desist letter. The campaign has denied that Trump gave money to Willey's mortgage fund.

A company called WeSearchr said on Twitter that it paid for Shelton's trip to the debate in St. Louis. That firm was co-founded by conservative media figure Charles C. Johnson, an outspoken Trump supporter. WeSearchr says it crowdfunds research about rumours it believes are not being covered by news outlets.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email Sunday that the campaign paid for Broaddrick's travel to the debate. "She was our invited guest," Hicks wrote.

More than two dozen Republican office holders have declared since Friday that they will not vote for Trump. Many have called on him to step aside after his vulgar descriptions of sexual advances on women were revealed in a recording.

In the 2005 video, obtained by the Washington Post and NBC News, Trump, who was married to his current wife at the time, is heard describing attempts to have sex with a married woman. He also says that when you're a star, "you can do anything." Trump adds seconds later: "Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything." He said of his impulse to kiss beautiful women: "I don't even wait."

Trump's focus on Bill Clinton's past was backed by top surrogate, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who equated Trump's latest controversy to the actions of Hillary Clinton in the 1990s when her husband struggled through the fallout of his own sexual transgressions.

Over the objections of CNN's Jake Tapper, Giuliani insisted that Hillary Clinton "was the leader of the attack" against "the women who Bill Clinton sexually assaulted, sexually abused."

Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, declared he could neither condone nor defend the remarks. Several other Republicans took the extraordinary step of revoking support for their party's nominee. Among them: Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Ayotte — both are running for re-election — and the party's 2008 nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain.

Republican leaders have scheduled a rare Monday conference call for House lawmakers, who are out on recess. An email obtained by The Associated Press doesn't specify the topic, but rank-and-file lawmakers believe it's about Trump.

Watch The Choice 2016 on the Passionate Eye on Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. ET & PT on CBC News Network for new insights into Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and why they both want one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

With files from Reuters