Two months after she was humiliated when she delivered a plagiarized speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Melania Trump emerged from near-total silence to defend her husband during the worst stretch of his candidacy, calling his behavior toward women “inappropriate” but adding, “We are moving on.”
Ms. Trump faced a firestorm of criticism when her convention speech lifted lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 address to the Democratic National Convention, and she has been absent from the campaign trail since, save for appearances at the first two general election debates.
But on Monday, she broke from weeks of avoiding interviews, saying that an “Access Hollywood” recording of her husband, Donald J. Trump, bragging about sexual assault was “not the man that I know” and that former President Bill Clinton’s history with women was fair game.
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The campaign’s decision to deploy Ms. Trump as a character witness for her embattled husband came as top aides have struggled how to respond to reports that Mr. Trump forced himself on several women and the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape. This past weekend, the campaign began discussing options for showcasing Ms. Trump publicly, leading to the two interviews she gave, one to Fox News and one to CNN.
In the interview with the Fox News host Ainsley Earhardt, from which excerpts were released on Monday afternoon, she expressed dismay with her husband’s words.
“Those words, they were offensive to me and they were inappropriate,” Ms. Trump said. “And he apologized to me.” She said she had accepted his apology. “We are moving on,” she said.
Ms. Trump, the Manhattan businessman’s third wife, issued a statement a day after the tape was initially aired, and she said she was offended. That weekend, aides to Mr. Trump, as well as his adult children, urged Ms. Trump to promptly agree to a joint sit-down interview with her husband. But she had little interest in it, and the idea died.
In the Fox interview, she made clear she was standing by her husband, and attributed the comments to behavior from an entertainer who was not a politician. “This is not the man that I know,” she said.
“We could see, as I always said, as my husband said, as well, for a successful businessman, entrepreneur, entertainer to achieving so much in his life, being in so many shows, so many tapes, it’s very hard to run for public office. And he did this anyway,” she said. “He said, ‘I want to help American people. I want to keep America safe. I want to bring back jobs, bring back economy, so our children, our futures will be the best way possible.’”
Ms. Trump’s emergence comes as the campaign has been bleeding the support of female voters, putting him further behind Hillary Clinton in national and swing-state polling. And it was unclear if her remarks would help change her husband’s political fortunes.
Mr. Trump said at the second presidential debate against Mrs. Clinton in St. Louis that the “Access Hollywood” tape represented “locker-room talk.” When pressed by one of the moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN, Mr. Trump insisted he had never actually engaged in such lewd behavior, an assertion undercut by the women who subsequently came forward.
Mr. Trump has vehemently denied the claims of his female accusers, calling them part of a conspiracy led partly by media outlets, particularly CNN and The New York Times. Yet despite Mr. Trump’s criticism of CNN and its reporting, Ms. Trump still selected Mr. Cooper to interview her.
Before the debate, Mr. Trump hosted three women who have accused Mr. Clinton of sexual assault or rape in the past at a news conference, and he gave them tickets to sit in the debate hall.
Asked whether it is fair to bring up Mr. Clinton’s past, Ms. Trump said, “Well, if they bring up my past, why not?”
Sounding a note of retribution similar to her husband’s, Ms. Trump said: “They’re asking for it. They started.”
She alluded to a television ad by a “super PAC” that was against Mr. Trump in the primaries, which featured a nude photo spread by Ms. Trump from her days as a supermodel.
“They started from the — from the beginning of the campaign putting my — my picture from modeling days,” she said. “That was my modeling days, and I’m proud what I did. I worked very hard.”