On Saturday night, in the aftermath of a video obtained by the Washington Post in which Donald Trump jokes with Billy Bush about "grabbing" women "by the pussy," Trump retweeted two tweets by Juanita Broaddrick, a 73-year-old retired nursing home operator from Arkansas.
In these tweets, Broaddrick referred to the explosive allegations she's been making for years: that Bill Clinton raped her in a hotel room in 1978, and that Hillary Clinton "threatened" her into silence afterwards.
Trump then appeared with Broaddrick, as well as fellow alleged Clinton sexual abuse or harassment victims Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey at a press conference a little over an hour before Sunday night's debate. "I tweeted recently, and Mr. Trump retweeted, that actions speak louder than words," she said at the press conference. "Mr. Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me." (Also present at the press conference was Kathy Shelton, who has accused Hillary of negotiating down the prison sentence of a man who raped her as a child.)
Broaddrick's allegations against the Clintons have been cycling through various parts of the right-wing political and media worlds since the early 1990s. But it's been a long time since they've been given this much oxygen. Trump, backed into a corner by the leaked video of him discussing groping women without their consent, may be tempted to use Broaddrick's story as an attack against the Clintons during tonight's debate. If he does, it would introduce millions more people to her and her story.
If you're unfamiliar with the Broaddrick saga, here's what allegedly happened:
In 1978, while campaigning for governor, Bill Clinton (who was then the Attorney General of Arkansas) stopped at the nursing home where Juanita Broaddrick worked. She had been volunteering for his campaign, and they met several times after that. The last time they met, Broaddrick alleges that, though they had agreed to meet in the lobby of a hotel she was staying in while visiting Little Rock, Clinton asked her to to meet her in her hotel room to avoid reporters. Once they were there, she says he tried to kiss her, bit her upper lip, and proceeded to push her onto the bed and rape her.
“There was no remorse,” Broaddrick told BuzzFeed's Katie J.M. Baker earlier this year. “He acted like it was an everyday occurrence. He was not the least bit apologetic. It was just unreal.”
A friend of Broaddrick's corroborated the story to the New York Times in 1999, saying that she found Broaddrick bruised and in a "state of shock" in the hotel room.
Broaddrick says that Clinton apologized to her in 1991, months before he announced he was running for president. By 1997, the story had become a rumor around Little Rock, and lawyers for Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee who sued then-President Clinton for sexual assault and eventually reached an $850,000 settlement, came to try and get Broaddrick to testify in the trial. She resisted, not wanting to relive the experience, and when they eventually subpoenaed her, she signed an affidavit denying the rape—an affidavit she now recants.
After the Lewinsky scandal, during Ken Starr's investigation into Bill Clinton's private life, Broaddrick was given immunity from prosecution for perjury so that she could recant her signed affidavit, and told Starr her story. He found it too inconclusive to use in the case against Clinton.
In 1999, Broaddrick went fully public with her story for the first time, in a Dateline NBC report. But Clinton's impeachment trial was over by the time it aired, and the story eventually blew over until it became fodder for just the conservative anti-Clinton right.
Still, as Baker writes, Broaddrick's claims may play differently with an audience in 2016, when discussions of "rape culture" and "victim-blaming" are pervasive, than they did in 1999. Hillary Clinton herself has said that victims of sexual assault "deserve to be believed." And so, as Baker writes, "Broaddrick presents a dilemma for those inclined to support survivors of sexual assault: Can you believe a woman’s story, on principle, but reject the way she decides to tell it?"
Broaddrick's claims have mainly remained afloat due to the efforts of right-wing media outlets like Breitbart, which pushed an exclusive interview with her today that Trump promoted, though a full third of Americans polled by CNN in 1999 believed her story. And although Broaddrick is vocally pro-Trump on social media, she says it is only to prevent the Clintons from taking the White House again.
Trump, confronted by evidence of his own sexual misconduct, has reached the point where he is ready to use Broaddrick's allegations to form part of a larger attack on Clinton's trustworthiness.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.