CNN —  Being elected president shortly after surviving the publication of the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape in 2016 is the moment in which Donald Trump defied political gravity.

A politician was heard on tape saying truly disgusting things about women and yet was still elevated by voters to the highest office. Trump’s ability to survive that embarrassing episode echoes in his reascendance to the Republican presidential nomination for a third time, despite losing the 2020 election and then trying to overturn the results.

If the embarrassing tape somehow represents Trump’s greatest triumph, it is also something that continues to haunt him, as it became the focus of his hush money criminal trial in New York on Friday.

RELATED: Read more about the testimony of former Trump aide Hope Hicks.

The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape reexamined

Trump’s 2016 victory in the Electoral College seems only more improbable in the retelling. Hicks, his former close aide, told jurors about what must have been the unbelievably awkward moment she read a transcript of the “Access Hollywood” tape – in which he brags about being able to grope women – to her boss.

“This was a crisis,” she said of its release’s impact on the campaign. It’s sordid stuff, and the outlines were generally known even without Hicks’ testimony on Friday. The judge in the case ruled at the start of the trial that the tape itself can’t be played in court, but it has been described.

It is worth revisiting the earthquake the “Access Hollywood” tape set off in the 2016 campaign. When the video came out, it left many people speechless.

The tape was recorded in 2005, and it was leaked to The Washington Post, which published the video on October 8, 2016, a little more than a month before Election Day. Trump is heard talking about trying, unsuccessfully, to “move on” an unnamed, married woman, and then crassly talks about his uncontrollable desire to kiss an actress he is about to meet with then-“Access Hollywood” host Billy Bush.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he told Bush. “You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the p****.”

Here’s a video CNN published at the time:

The fallout was immediate

Multiple Republicans who today are completely behind Trump, like Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, called on him in 2016 to immediately step down. The perception inside Trump’s inner circle was that most Republican lawmakers wanted him off the ticket, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie later wrote in a memoir.

Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan said he was “sickened.” And then-Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus thought Trump should either resign or would lose in a landslide, according to Christie and then-Trump aide Steve Bannon.

Even Trump’s wife, Melania, who rarely issues public statements, expressed her disgust with the words on the tape, although she would later write it off as “boy talk.”

Trump actually apologized

Things were so grim back then that Trump issued what is probably the only apology of his political career in a straight-to-camera video posted on Twitter, now X, in which he admits the tape is real and takes responsibility.

“I said it. I was wrong. And I apologize,” Trump said, although he made it clear he would not leave the race. Being exposed to people on the campaign trail had changed him, Trump said, before trying to draw an equivalence between his words and allegations against former President Bill Clinton.

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