Sleaze and drama swirl at presidential debate
Four women accusers. Old tales of adultery hanging in the air. Donald Trump's degrading words about women. The second debate opposing the would-be leaders of the United States had all the ingredients of a sleazy B-movie.
The camera shook a little as Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Kathy Shelton and Juanita Broaddrick entered the room, in a hotel in St. Louis, Missouri, 90 minutes before the debate.
They took place beside Trump for a press conference, hastily convened in what amounted to an unprecedented political maneuver, beamed out on Facebook Live by the Republican nominee's campaign.
Juanita Broaddrick dropped the bombshell.
"Mr Trump may have said some bad words," she said. "But Bill Clinton raped me, and Hillary Clinton threatened me. I don't think there's any comparison."
Two of the other women seated on the panel accuse the former president of sexual misconduct. One of the cases was settled out of court. Neither ever led to a conviction.
The fourth woman was Kathy Shelton, who has attacked Hillary Clinton for her role in defending her alleged rapist as a young lawyer, 40 years ago.
From the press conference, the Clintons' accusers -- their faces worn and tired-looking -- made their way to the presidential debate venue, where they took place among the audience as personal guests of the Republican nominee.
Several decades after the alleged assaults took place, their loathing of the Clinton couple is fully intact -- and the Democratic nominee, called on time and again to explain her husband's indiscretions, knew this full well as she walked on stage.
She also knew her billionaire opponent -- with his campaign in a tailspin over predatory comments towards women, caught on a hot mic -- would pull no punches.
Trump lived up to the expectations. Moments into the debate, came the bombshell as he accused Bill Clinton of being "abusive to women."
- 'Not proud' -
Veteran politician that he is, Bill Clinton was composed as he walked out among the debate audience, smiling courteously as he shook the hand of Trump's daughter Ivanka and his wife Melania before the rows of television cameras.
Melania, impeccable in a fuchsia pink suit, was bracing for a pretty bad night too.
Her 70-year-old husband was going to have to explain himself to the American public, and the world, over a tape in which he gloats about groping women -- and which sent his campaign into a tailspin since being made public on Friday.
"Certainly I'm not proud of it. But this is locker room talk," the billionaire pleaded, when pressed about his boasts of sexual assault.
Adding to the string, Trump made the comments shortly after he married Melania in 2005.
But Melania faithfully rallied to her husband's side, describing his lewd remarks as "unacceptable and offensive" -- yet urging the public to accept his apology.
"The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know," she said in a statement.
"I hope people will accept his apology, as I have."
© 2016 AFP