The Slatest

Ben Carson Said It Doesn’t Matter Whether or Not Donald Trump Committed Sexual Assault


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Ben Carson’s ugly surrogacy for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign reached a low point on Friday. In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump’s former presidential primary rival suggested that one of the women accusing Trump of sexual assault was lying, asked the show to shut off BBC reporter Katty Kay’s microphone when she asked him about that, and then said it “doesn’t matter” whether or not Trump groped the women he’s accused of having assaulted.

Here’s how it started. Mike Pence had promised earlier in the day that evidence would be presented on Friday showing that Trump’s multiple sexual assault accusers were not telling the truth. Carson was asked if he had any insight into what that evidence would be. He responded:

No, I do not have any insight into that. Although, I do have common sense. And you know, for instance, if somebody’s sitting next to you in a first-class section of the airplane, there are stewardesses, there are other people around. And there’s just gigantic armrests. What happened to all those things?

Aside from the ease with which he chose to dismiss a woman who made a very plausible sexual assault accusation against Donald Trump as a liar, there were a couple things wrong with this argument. One, the armrests thing is bullshit. Two, sexual assault still happens on airplanes today and flight crews are incredibly ill equipped to handle them, so one can only imagine what things were like more than three decades ago when this alleged incident took place. And besides that, just—is it really necessary to explain that flight attendants are not omniscient cops monitoring every moment of every passenger’s flying experience?

What happened next in the interview, though, was truly revelatory. Kay follows up on Carson’s suggestion that Jessica Leeds, the woman who says Trump assaulted her in a first-class cabin in the early 1980s, is lying:

I want to push you on [the] allegations of sexual abuse because you seem to suggest this morning in this interview with your description of the first class cabin and in previous interviews that these women are lying. The real reason that women who have been sexually abused don’t come forward to talk about their stories is precisely this, that all too often they are accused of being liars. Are you saying these women are lying?

Carson responded without answering the question. “That’s your characterization because you need to characterize it that way to try to make me the bad guy,” he said.

At this point, both Kay and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough began to try to press Carson to answer the actual question.

“No, no, no, you just said,” Kay responded.

“It’s a simple question,” Scarborough shouted.

“Stop, stop,” Carson said.

“Don’t tell me to stop, it’s a simple question,” Scarborough responded as Kay drifted off.

“Hey can you turn her microphone off please,” Carson said at this point. Essentially, he ignored the male journalist who was trying to press him on a question he didn’t have an answer for and requested that the female journalist doing the exact same thing have her voice taken off of the air. It’s kind of astounding if you think about it, even if it’s not necessarily surprising coming from Carson. “Turn her microphone off so I can talk,” Carson repeated for good measure before laughing.

It actually got worse!

Scarborough stepped in to force the issue, which Carson accepted without asking to have this particular journalist’s mic disabled:

It’s a simple question. Yes or no? Do you believe these women are lying or not? Nobody’s trying to paint you as a bad guy, we just want an answer.

“It doesn’t matter whether they’re lying or not,” Carson responded. “Listen, it doesn’t matter whether they’re lying or not. What matters is that the train is going off the cliff. We’re taking our eye off of that and getting involved in other issues we can take care of later.”

Basically, Carson was saying that it doesn’t matter whether Trump sexually assaulted several different women. The veracity of their stories and the possible criminality of Trump’s alleged actions are irrelevant in Carson’s mind to the outcome of this election, in a larger moral landscape, and in the legal sense.

Again, this was a low point for Carson as a surrogate and possibly as a human being.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.