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Trump spokeswoman: he couldn’t have assaulted Jessica Leeds because … airplane armrests?

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Jessica Leeds, now 74, came forward to the New York Times this week with her account of being sexually assaulted by Republican president nominee Donald Trump. On a flight in the early 1980s, she said, Trump (who was seated next to her) grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hands up her skirt. As Leeds told the Times, "He was like an octopus. His hands were everywhere."

This is a harrowing account, one consistent with those of at least five other women who have gone on record accusing Trump of kissing or groping them without consent.

But Katrina Pierson, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign and an omnipresent figure on cable news this election, thinks she’s cracked the case: Leeds is lying, she insists, because her story doesn’t jibe with Pierson’s personal knowledge of the development of the American aerospace sector. Here is Pierson, on national television, insisting that Leeds must be lying because of the kind of planes that were common in the early ’80s, and because armrests in first class are fixed:

"We're talking about the early 1980s, Don, seriously? Back then you had planes — what, a DC-9, a DC-10, an MD-80, a 707, and maybe an L-1011. But she said specifically that this was to New York. This is important, so we can X-out the DC-10 and the L-1011. Guess what? First-class seats have fixed armrests.”

You will be shocked to learn that Katrina Pierson, who was 4 or 5 years old at the time that Leeds alleges the assault took place, is incorrect about which planes were flying out of New York in the early 1980s:

This is basically the “jet fuel can’t melt steel beams” of sexual assault denialism.

This wasn’t the most loathsome thing Pierson said in her CNN hit (that would be her insistence that Trump’s accusers only want “15 minutes of fame”) but despite its ridiculousness, it is instructive of how the campaign will likely approach these allegations: by highly scrutinizing individual details to cast the accusers as liars.

Obviously Trump could’ve assaulted Leeds on an airplane with fixed armrests as well, and it would’ve been reasonable for Leeds to not remember that detail 30 years after the fact. And the fact that there are five other named accusers with very similar stories should give her story additional credibility. But that won’t stop ridiculous-sounding objections like this from becoming a mainstay of Trump campaign rhetoric for the rest of the campaign.

One can only hope that most people’s reaction, like the rest of the CNN panel’s, is to recognize how absurd a response this is to a chorus of women accusing your candidate of assault.

Watch: Women accusing Trump of sexual assault

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