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Cosby claim: Sex assault charge politically motivated

A day after Bill Cosby was charged with sexual assault, his lawyers launched a campaign Thursday to discredit the case against him as false and politically motivated.

Bill Cosby leaves his arraignment. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Bill Cosby leaves his arraignment. TOM GRALISH / Staff PhotographerRead more

A day after Bill Cosby was charged with sexual assault, his lawyers launched a campaign Thursday to discredit the case against him as false and politically motivated.

The charges "fulfill a campaign promise" that prosecutor Kevin Steele made this fall while running to be Montgomery County district attorney, said Cosby's spokeswoman, Monique Pressley.

That claim was part of the message Pressley delivered during a round of interviews on morning TV shows, decrying the prosecution of the 78-year-old actor and comedian as unsubstantiated, and foreshadowing possible defense arguments in court.

It also marked one of few occasions in which Cosby's team has publicly gone on the offensive to counter a specific claim.

Through his lawyers, Cosby has repeatedly denied assaulting any women. But the denials typically have come in terse statements and legal filings.

Pressley's appearances followed Cosby's arraignment Wednesday on allegations that he drugged and assaulted former Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004. If convicted of the felony charge of aggravated indecent assault, he could face five to 10 years in prison.

Constand, one of Cosby's earliest accusers, first reported the allegation to police in 2005. Bruce L. Castor Jr., then the Montgomery County district attorney, examined the claim but declined to arrest Cosby, citing insufficient evidence to support any charge.

His successor, Risa Vetri Ferman, and Steele, her first assistant, reopened the investigation this summer after the release of a potentially incriminating 2005 civil deposition from Cosby and after dozens of other women came forward with similar accusations of sexual misconduct by him.

Then Cosby's potential prosecution - or lack thereof - unexpectedly erupted this fall as a central issue in the race for district attorney between Steele and Castor.

Steele did not discuss the case on the campaign trail. But he ran TV ads citing the Cosby case, attacking Castor for "not looking out for the victims," and promising to work for justice.

Castor, who has stood by his decision for the last decade, fired back asking why Steele had not acted.

Steele won the November election. Cosby's team is suggesting that he dusted off the decade-old case as a campaign strategy.

"The former D.A. said that there was no need to go further and that it belonged in the civil courts," Pressley said Thursday on NBC's Today. "And now, through a game of political football at which my client's life is the center, we're back again."

On ABC's Good Morning America, she described the charge as "the fulfillment of a campaign promise from a prosecutor who used this case ... in order to get into office."

"What we have now," she added, "is not the effectuation of justice."

Pressley, who with defense lawyer Brian McMonagle literally guided Cosby through a media scrum in and out of his Elkins Park arraignment, said she was unavailable Thursday to speak to the The Inquirer.

Steele has maintained that he filed charges "because it was the right thing to do," and that the case was reopened because new information became available.

"It's not a time to Monday morning quarterback," he said after announcing the charge Wednesday. "We have examined the evidence in this case. ... The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed at this point."

Constand's attorney, Dolores Troiani, who has spoken out against Castor's handling of the case, said she trusted Steele.

"He's really not a politician," she said. "He's a thoughtful prosecutor."

Pressley said Cosby's defense team would fight to keep his civil deposition and testimony from other accusers out of the criminal trial. She vowed a fight on the charges and said Cosby would not accept a plea agreement.

"Once we are allowed to say what needs to be said, everything will be made clear," she said.

The sides could square off again soon. Cosby faces a Jan. 14 preliminary hearing.