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Editorial: Sen. Sessions still won't answer whether grabbing someone's genitals without consent constitutes sexual assault

The Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to requests for clarification on this question.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL., wears a "Make Mexico Great Again Also" hat prior to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's speech during a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TheBlaze ran a story Monday about Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who struggled to answer a question posed to him by Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack about whether the actions described by Donald Trump in the now-infamous "Access Hollywood" tapes constituted sexual assault. Specifically, the following exchange between McCormack and Sessions was reported to have taken place:

“But beyond the language, would you characterize the behavior described in that as sexual assault if that behavior actually took place?”

“I don’t characterize that as sexual assault,” Sessions replied. “I think that’s a stretch. I don’t know what he meant—”

“So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?” McCormack interjected.

“I don’t know,” Sessions said. “It’s not clear that he — how that would occur.”

The headline of the piece, which was indisputably accurate, indicated that Sen. Sessions "struggle[d] to answer whether grabbing someone’s genitals without consent constitutes sexual assault." Indeed, the question he was asked was whether "grabbing a woman by the genitals" was "sexual assault," and Sessions answered "I don't know," and, "It's not clear[.]"

If that is not struggling to answer a question, I am not sure what is.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) wears a "Make Mexico Great Again Also" hat prior to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's speech during an Aug. 31 campaign rally in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

After indicating that TheBlaze would not be interested in running a retraction of the story, Sessions' office asked that we include this statement in the original story, which we are reprinting in its entirety here:

The Weekly Standard’s characterization of comments I made following Sunday’s Presidential debate is completely inaccurate. My hesitation was based solely on confusion of the contents of the 2005 tape and the hypothetical posed by the reporter, which was asked in a chaotic post-debate environment.  I regret that it resulted  in an inaccurate article that misrepresented my views. Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable. I would never intentionally suggest otherwise.

Sessions is a skilled politician who is surrounded by experienced communications staff, as evidenced by the carefully worded statement above. TheBlaze is happy to include this statement at his request, but we would be remiss if we did not point out that the statement is misleading and/or evasive in a number of particulars.

First, to the extent that this statement is aimed at TheBlaze, we did not rely on or reproduce "The Weekly Standard's characterization of comments [Sen. Sessions] made." We reprinted the actual comments themselves. Readers can judge for themselves whether the comments were accurately characterized or not.

It is noteworthy that at least one other prominent Republican, RNC communications director Sean Spicer, dishonestly attempted to claim that he was quoted inaccurately by McCormack in the same article. Only when McCormack produced an audio recording of the interview to the Washington Post, proving that he had in fact quoted Spicer verbatim, did Spicer change his story to (likewise) attribute his remarks to the chaos of the spin room.

It is important to note that Sessions does not explicitly claim that he was quoted inaccurately in any way in either McCormack's article or the article contained on TheBlaze; however, a quick reading of Sessions' skillfully worded statement could create the impression that he is alleging that he was somehow quoted inaccurately, without running the risk of being directly contradicted by release of the raw audio, as Spicer was.

Second, Sessions' statement is still blatantly evasive with respect to the question that was asked: "So if you grab a woman by the genitals, that’s not sexual assault?" Sessions' statement seems to create the impression that he is answering the question by saying, "Of course it is crystal clear that assault is unacceptable." However, that is neither the question that was asked, nor is is the politically relevant question.

Trump and his surrogates have attempted to mount a defense of Trump's remarks by claiming that they were mere "locker-room banter" and that Trump, at worst, is guilty of using vulgar language in a private conversation — a relatively menial political sin in 2016. However, the difference between "using vulgar language" and "bragging about committing sexual assault" is a meaningful one, and if Trump's surrogates wish to defend him on charges of the latter, they should be willing to explain why.

TheBlaze sent multiple email requests to the senator's office in response to their request for a retraction, asking them if they would now like to answer with clarity whether Sessions believes that the actions described in the tape constitute sexual assault, or not.

In the first email, TheBlaze asked:

Seems like no one was suggesting that the Senator implied that assault is acceptable, the question was just whether what Mr. Trump actually said on the Access Hollywood tape constitutes sexual assault.

In Sen. Sessions’ opinion, does the action that Trump described on that tape fit the definition of sexual assault?

Sessions' office, which had been tremendously responsive to emails prior to this point, immediately ceased responding. Accordingly, we asked again Tuesday night:

On this, we need an answer by 1pm tomorrow or we are going to run a story indicating that your office did not respond.

Again, wondering: In Sen. Sessions’ opinion, does the action that Trump described on that tape fit the definition of sexual assault?

As of press time for this article, we still have not received a response from Sessions' office to this question.

At TheBlaze, we are aware that other media outlets regularly permit politicians — especially Democrats — to avoid answering questions that are harmful to Democrats through the use of evasions, misdirections and non sequiturs. Those media outlets can justify their lack of diligence to their audience. At TheBlaze, we will hold politicians of all stripes accountable to the facts to the best of our ability.

One last thing…
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