Expert: Voters Love GOP Front-Runner Speaking His Mind So Incident May Not Hurt Him

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Donald Trump’s top adviser has apologized after coming under fire for comments he made while defending the Republican presidential candidate from a decades-old rape accusation leveled by the real estate mogul’s first wife.

In an interview in the “Daily Beast,” lawyer Michael Cohen said “you cannot rape your spouse” in response to the accusation made by Ivana Trump during 1990 divorce proceedings. In a court deposition, Ivana Trump used the term “rape” to describe a sexual encounter between her and her husband, CBS News reported.

“You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand that by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse,” Cohen told the “Daily Beast.” “You cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.”

Cohen apologized for the comment Tuesday.

“As an attorney, husband and father there are many injustices that offend me but nothing more than charges of rape or racism. They hit me at my core. Rarely am I surprised by the press, but the gall of this particular reporter to make such a reprehensible and false allegation against Mr. Trump truly stunned me,” Cohen said in a statement to CNN. “In my moment of shock and anger, I made an inarticulate comment — which I do not believe — and which I apologize for entirely.”

Ivana Trump has since walked back from the accusation. Following the Daily Beast article, she said she made the rape allegation “at a time of very high tension during my divorce from Donald.”

“I have recently read some comments attributed to me from nearly 30 years ago at a time of very high tension during my divorce from Donald. The story is totally without merit,” she said in a statement provided to CBS News. “Donald and I are the best of friends and together have raised three children that we love and are very proud of. I have nothing but fondness for Donald and wish him the best of luck on his campaign. Incidentally, I think he would make an incredible president.”

Donald Trump told Geraldo Rivera he never tried to rape Ivana, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.

“It never happened. It was total nonsense,” Donald Trump said.

Tim Mak, who co-wrote the Daily Beast article, told “CBS This Morning” they decided to look into Donald Trump‘s past following his announcement speech.

Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign making insults about Mexican immigrants saying that they were ‘rapists,’ so it was a little bit relevant to look into his past and see exactly what might’ve been said about him on that topic in his personal life,” Mak said.

During the interview, Mak said the response to his questions soon turned into threats from Cohen.

“They were trying to say that the allegation was not made in a criminal sense but then it descended into insults and threats; threats of lawsuits telling me to tread lightly and to say that whatever lawsuits that they might file against me would be disgusting,” Mak said, adding “I’m not all that concerned about what might be coming my way.”

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz called this “a new low.”

“Rape is rape. Full stop. End of story. There is no difference or division between ‘forcible,’ ‘legitimate,’ ‘marital’ or any other label Republicans slap on before the word ‘rape.’ All rape is a disgusting violation, and Americans have fought too long and hard for that to be acknowledged to still have it questioned in 2015,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “It’s a pattern of outrageous comments that must stop, and Republicans should call it what it is — despicable.”

Will the incident damage Donald Trump’s campaign? Experts say it’s hard to know.

“He says whatever comes into his head and people don’t seem to mind at all and the polling numbers  keep remaining reasonably high,” political consultant Hank Sheinkopf told Kramer.

A new Monmouth University poll of Republican New Hampshire primary voters finds Trump leading with 24 percent support, well ahead of Jeb Bush, who is in second place with 12 percent. The 14 other candidates are in the low single digits.

On the flip side, Donald Trump also has the highest negatives, with 44 percent of registered Republicans  saying they have an unfavorable view of him, followed by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 40 percent.