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DeVos: Trump's controversial comments on leaked audio tape describe sexual assault

Betsy DeVos, secretary of education nominee for President-elect Donald Trump, before the start of a Senate Health, Education, and Labor Committee confirmation hearing. (Getty Images/Zach Gibson)

Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that the actions President-elect Donald Trump detailed on a leaked audio from 2005 would have been a form of sexual assault.

DeVos, the billionaire philanthropist, was asked about the audio during her confirmation hearing Tuesday. In the audio published by the Washington Post in October, Trump is heard speaking in a vulgar and sexual manner about women, including bragging about "grabbing" women by the genitals.

"If this behavior — kissing and touching women and girls without their consent — happened in a school, would you consider it a sexual assault," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) asked.

DeVos simply answered, "Yes."

As BuzzFeed reported, DeVos did not give clear answers on how she would handle federal regulations already in place to protect victims of campus sexual assault, including a 2011 Dear Colleague letter from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights that lays out how schools handle cases of sexual assault.

The Obama administration repeatedly put pressure on public schools for how they handled sexual assault on their campuses, especially as hundreds of schools are under investigation for allegedly mishandling cases of sexual assault.

The 2011 letter includes guidelines and legal obligations for how schools handle campus sexual assault, including allowing for schools to use "preponderance of evidence," which is a lesser standard than "beyond a reasonable doubt" when adjudicating sexual assault cases on campus.

During DeVos' Tuesday hearing, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) questioned how she would handle the regulations in place for how schools handle sexual assault should she be appointed to the Cabinet position.

"I know that there’s a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that and, if confirmed, I would look forward to working with you and your colleagues and understand the range of opinions, and understand the views of the higher ed institutions that are charged with resolving these and addressing them, and I would look forward to finding some resolutions," DeVos told him.

Ed Patru, spokesman for the Friends of Betsy DeVos coalition, told TheBlaze last week that DeVos would seriously tackle campus sexual assault in her Cabinet role without revealing any specifics of how she plans to do so.

"No one will take the issue of sexual assault as seriously as Betsy DeVos, and anyone who suggests otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about," he said then.

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