ABC News(NEW YORK) — Saturday was intended to be a day of preparation for Sunday’s presidential debate for Donald Trump.
But amid a leak of recorded audio in which the GOP presidential candidate had a lewd conversation with former “Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush — describing his desire to grab a woman’s “p—y” — the day instead became a day of damage control Trump, his family, and his closest advisors. And even as they hunkered down in his gilded Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, the mood is still dire, according to one senior-level campaign source.
— Good Morning America (@GMA) October 8, 2016
Saturday’s meetings, mainly held in Trump’s 66th floor penthouse apartment of Trump Tower, were focused on how to best handle the response to that 11-year-old audio that emerged Friday, prompting Republican leadership and running mate Mike Pence to distance themselves. Seven senators also withdrew their support.
Sources tell @ABC – today at Trump Tower was damage control with little debate prep. Trump not dropping out, RNC not pushing him as of now
— John Santucci (@JTSantucci) October 9, 2016
Trump was surrounded Saturday afternoon by RNC chairman Reince Preibus, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, campaign CEO Steve Bannon, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, and his eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr.
Trump’s wife Melania was present for some of the conversations. His other two eldest children, Ivanka and Eric, were not present.
Debate preparation, if any, was minimal, according to multiple sources. Instead, the meetings were focused on how best to handle the campaign’s next move.
But Trump seemed to indicate his next move via one of his most potent tools: Twitter. He retweeted a handful of tweets by Juanita Broaddrick, a former nursing home administrator that alleged Bill Clinton raped her in 1978. Sources confirmed that act summarized Trump’s plans to go after Clinton and his marital indiscretions.
Sources tell ABC News that Trump’s advisors walked Trump through various scenarios on how to respond. One senior advisor issued the caveat, though, that Trump “will do what he wants to do.”
Two RNC sources tell ABC News that Priebus, despite reports, did not pressure Trump to drop out, instead joining in the strategy session.
RNC source calls reports Reince is pressuring Trump to drop out false: “There is no mechanism to replace him. Trump is our nominee”
— Candace Smith (@CandaceSmith_) October 8, 2016
Trump’s team was successful in convincing him to record a late-night video message Friday. Trump was reticent to apologize, thinking he should not have to. But the team implored him to do it, telling him that there was no choice.
Conway and Ivanka Trump had been adamantly opposed to invoking Bill Clinton’s sexual history, thinking such a tenuous strategy could backfire. But nonetheless, Trump compared his actions to those of the former president. “I’ve said some foolish things 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,” Trump said in his statement.
As the day progressed, one senior aide said that Trump was being peppered with questions and various strategies. During this time he was watching cable news coverage and saw a crowd of supporters gathered outside Trump Tower. It was then, that the real estate developer-turned-politician, ignoring Secret Service’s concern, sprung up from his chair and headed out to briefly greet supporters. “It was his pick-me-up,” the senior source said. “He needed it.”
And even as speculation roiled that Trump would step aside, multiple sources late Saturday said one thing is clear: He is not dropping out.
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