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Trump’s baseless retweet reflects weak new campaign

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The tweet Trump shared reads: “We can beat them at their game .. #PedoBiden” and includes a gif of Biden bending down to whisper into the ear of an adult woman with his hands resting on her shoulders .

In the gif, Biden leans in to say something to Stephanie Carter, wife of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, at her swearing-in ceremony in 2015. Since Biden entered the 2020 race, the image has been used by critics to suggest the former vice president was physically inappropriate towards women.

But Sarah Carter says it’s not such a thing, writing in 2019 that in the moment captured on camera, she felt comforted by Biden when “he could sense that I was unusually nervous.”

Carter added, “After the swearing-in, as Ash was making remarks, he leaned over to say ‘thank you for letting him do this’ and kept his hands on my shoulders to offer his support. But a photo taken from a video – falsely taken from what was a longer moment between close friends – sent in a sneaky tweet – has become the lasting image of that day. “

According to a Twitter spokesperson, the tweet Trump retweeted on Tuesday, falsely accusing Biden of being a pedophile “is not currently in violation of Twitter rules.” The spokesperson did not explain why.

The tweet comes less than a week after Trump himself was accused of making inappropriate comments about an underage girl.

Samantha Cohen, former attorney for Trump’s daughter Michael Cohen, said she was taken aback by her behavior towards her father in an incident in 2012 in which her father said Trump had laughed at her .

Michael Cohen, who spent time in jail earlier this year for fraud and tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations, detailed the allegation in his recently published book, according to Vanity Fair.

According to Vanity Fair, Trump called Samantha Cohen, then 15, a “piece of …”. And when Michael Cohen informed him that Samantha was his daughter, Trump reportedly replied, “Is that your daughter?” … “When was she so hot?”

Trump has also been accused of sexual harassment by over a dozen women (allegations he denies) and was filmed bragging that his star power allows him to grab women by their genitals and kiss them. (comments for which he apologized).

Before the final months of an election, the president has already indicated that he is ready to deal cheap blows against his opponent, including accusing him of using performance-enhancing drugs to get through the Democratic primary debates.

Not happening in a vacuum

The president’s misinformation tweet about Biden and Carter doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

Since its inception three years ago, QAnon has spread to the darkest corners of the internet. Now, the followers of the group, who call themselves “believers”, have found a niche on social networks and within the Republican Party.

QAnon started out as a one-off conspiracy theory. But its followers now act more like a virtual cult, worshiping and believing much of the misinformation the conspiracy community stirs up.

Its main conspiracy theories claim that dozens of prominent politicians and celebrities are working in tandem with governments around the world to engage in child sexual abuse. Followers also believe there is a “deep state” effort to annihilate the president.

There is no evidence that what QAnon claims is factual.

Followers make unsubstantiated claims, then amplify them with spurious or out of context evidence posted on social media to substantiate the claims.

Trump embraced QAnon. He personally amplified his theories on social media and endorsed a Congressional candidate who openly credits the conspiracy movement.

A familiar campaign tactic

As Biden competed in the Democratic presidential primary in 2019, several women came out publicly to say that the former vice president made them physically uncomfortable when interacting with him in person.

In his acknowledgment of last year’s accusations, Biden said in a video that “the limits of protecting personal space have been reset.”

“I understand that and I will be much more attentive,” he added.

Tara Reade, Biden’s former Senate assistant, also accused Biden of sexually assaulting her while working for her office in 1993.

CNN previously reported that Reade changed his public discourse on how Biden behaved around her, as did one of his close friends who was a key corroborator of Reade’s assault allegation. Victims of domestic and sexual violence don’t always tell cohesive stories about their abusers and their experiences, and Reade said she did not broadly share the allegation against Biden when she said it happened , making contemporary corroboration difficult. Biden has vehemently denied Reade’s allegations, and no former Biden staff has publicly said they witnessed or heard of any sort of sexual misconduct in his Senate office. Biden’s political opponents, including the president’s son, took up the charges.

The president also used Twitter more than once to suggest that Biden was guilty of being physically inappropriate with women or to call him “scary.”

The tactics are no different from 2016, when he baselessly accused Hillary Clinton of taking drugs before a debate. And while facing allegations of sexual misconduct which he angrily denied in 2016, the then-Trump candidate appeared with three women who accused former President Bill Clinton of inappropriate sexual behavior.

CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan, Paul Murphy, MJ Lee, Ellie Kaufman and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the name of the wife of former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. She is Stephanie Carter.

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