The Epstein case is a reminder of the depraved milieu from which our president sprang.
On Monday, Donald Trump disinvited the then-British ambassador, Kim Darroch, from an official administration dinner with the emir of Qatar, because he was mad about leaked cables in which Darroch assessed the president as “insecure” and “incompetent.”
There was room at the dinner, however, for Trump’s friend Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who was charged in a prostitution sting this year. Kraft was allegedly serviced at a massage parlor that had once been owned by Li Yang, known as Cindy, a regular at Trump’s club Mar-a-Lago. Yang is now the target of an F.B.I. inquiry into whether she funneled Chinese money into Trump’s political operation.
An ordinary president would not want to remind the world of the Kraft and Yang scandals at a time when Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest has hurled Trump’s other shady associations back into the limelight. Epstein, indicted on charges of abusing and trafficking underage girls, was a friend of Trump’s until the two had a falling out, reportedly over a failed business deal. The New York Times reported on a party Trump threw at Mar-a-Lago whose only guests were him, Epstein and around two dozen women “flown in to provide the entertainment.”
Epstein, of course, was also linked to the administration in another way. The president’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, was the United States attorney who oversaw a secret, obscenely lenient deal that let Epstein escape federal charges for sex crimes over a decade ago. On Friday, two days after a tendentious, self-serving news conference defending his handling of the Epstein case, Acosta finally resigned.
Even with Acosta gone, however, Epstein remains a living reminder of the depraved milieu from which the president sprang, and of the corruption and misogyny that continue to swirl around him. Trump has been only intermittently interested in distancing himself from that milieu. More often he has sought, whether through strategy or instinct, to normalize it.
This weekend, Trump National Doral, one of the president’s Florida clubs, planned to host a fund-raiser allowing golfers to bid on strippers to serve as their caddies. Though the event was canceled when it attracted too much attention, it’s at once astounding and not surprising at all that it was approved in the first place.
In truth, a stripper auction is tame by the standard of gross Trump stories, since at least the women were willing. Your eyes would glaze over if I tried to list every Trump associate implicated in the beating or sexual coercion of women. Still, it’s worth reviewing a few lowlights, because it’s astonishing how quickly the most lurid misdeeds fade from memory, supplanted by new degradations.
Acosta, you’ll remember, got his job because Trump’s previous pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew following the revelation that his ex-wife, pseudonymous and in disguise, had appeared on an Oprah episode about “High Class Battered Women.” (She later retracted her accusations.)
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was once charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. (The case was dropped when his former wife failed to appear in court.) After Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox News, was forced from his job for his involvement in Fox’s sprawling sexual harassment scandals, Trump hired him.
The White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned last year after it was revealed that both of his ex-wives had accused him of abuse. The White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned after his ex-wife came forward with stories of his violence toward her.
Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fund-raiser who became the Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman, resigned last year amid news that he’d paid $1.6 million as hush money to a former playboy model, Shera Bechard, who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant. (In a lawsuit, Bechard said Broidy had been violent.) The casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Trump installed as the R.N.C.’s finance chairman, resigned amid accusations that he’d pressured his employees for sex. He remains a major Republican donor.
In 2017, Trump tapped the former chief executive of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then The Washington Post discovered a report from a Department of Labor investigation into Myers’s company, which found a culture of “widespread sexual harassment” that was “severe and pervasive.” The Senate hasn’t yet voted on Myers’s nomination, but the administration hasn’t withdrawn it.
And just this week, a senior military officer came forward to accuse Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of derailing her career when she turned down his sexual advances. “My life was ruined by this,” she told The Associated Press. (The Air Force reportedly cleared him of misconduct.)
Trump will sometimes jettison men accused of abuse when they become a public relations liability. But his first instinct is empathy, a sentiment he seems otherwise unfamiliar with. In May, he urged Roy Moore, the theocratic Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls, not to run again because he would lose, but added, “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win.” The president has expressed no sympathy for victims in the Epstein case, but has said he felt bad for Acosta.
Trump seems to understand, at least on a limbic level, that the effect of this cavalcade of scandal isn’t cumulative. Instead, each one eclipses the last, creating a sense of weary cynicism that makes shock impossible to sustain.
It was just three weeks ago that E. Jean Carroll, a well-known writer, accused Trump of what amounted to a violent rape in the mid-1990s, and two friends of hers confirmed that she’d told them about it at the time. In response, Trump essentially said she was too unattractive to rape — “No. 1, she’s not my type” — and claimed that he’d never met her. That was a provable lie; there’s a photograph of them together. It didn’t matter. The story drifted from the headlines within a few days.
Since Epstein’s arrest, many people have wondered how he was able to get away with his alleged crimes for so long, given all that’s publicly known about him. But we also know that the president boasts about sexually assaulting women, that over a dozen have accused him of various sorts of sexual misconduct, and one of them has accused him of rape. We know it, and we know we can’t do anything about it, so we live with it and grow numb. Maybe someday justice will come and a new generation will wonder how we tolerated behavior that was always right out in the open.
As long as I’ve covered politics, Republicans have been trying to scare me.
Sometimes, it has been about gays and transgender people and uppity women looming, but usually it has been about people with darker skin looming.
They’re coming, always coming, to take things and change things and hurt people.
A Democratic president coined the expression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But it was Republicans who flipped the sentiment and turned it into a powerful and remorseless campaign ethos: Make voters fear fear itself.
The president has, after all, put a tremendous effort into the sulfurous stew of lies, racially charged rhetoric and scaremongering that he has been serving up as an election closer. He has been inspired to new depths of delusion, tweeting that “Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not! Vote Republican.”
He has been twinning the words “caravan” and “Kavanaugh” in a mellifluous poem to white male hegemony. Whites should be afraid of the migrant caravan traveling from Central America, especially since “unknown Middle Easterners” were hidden in its midst, an alternative fact that he cheerfully acknowledged was based on nothing.
The word “Kavanaugh” is meant to evoke the fear that aggrieved women will hurtle out of the past to tear down men from their rightful perches of privilege.
Naomi Wolf told Bill Clinton, and later Al Gore, they should present themselves as the Good Father, strong enough to protect the home (America) from invaders.
- They disappointed climate change activists who thought they would keep President Trump from leaving the landmark Paris accord.
- They enraged Democrats and even some Republicans by not pushing back against his immigration policies, and
- alienated business allies by their silence over threats to Nafta. They regularly faced news stories about their unpopularity.
Even their relationship with the president seemed to suffer.
Several times Mr. Trump joked that he “could have had Tom Brady” as a son-in-law. “Instead,” the president said, according to five people who heard him, “I got Jared Kushner.”
.. It did not help that the president had gone from telling aides to “talk to Jared,” as he did during the campaign, to telling them that “Jared hasn’t been so good for me.”
.. At various points, Mr. Trump told friends and his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, that he wished both Jared and Ivanka would return to New York.
.. It was only in May that Mr. Kushner had his security clearance restored
.. “I think they felt in some ways when things escalated that they thought it was best to keep a lower profile and hone in on their specific policy areas,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders
.. once said that she did not intend to stay in the capital long enough to become one of its “political creatures” — people she feels are “so principled that they get nothing done,”
.. home is now in Washington, where their children attend Jewish schools and their house is routinely watched by papraazzi as they depart for work or go for a run.
.. As for separating immigrant families, she added, “How do they sleep at night?”
.. In response to critics like Ms. Rosen, the couple have argued that they can temper Mr. Trump only if he is willing to listen.
.. Mr. Kushner has convinced the president that criminal justice reform is worthwhile, even as his attorney general remains a vocal opponent.
.. Mr. Kushner has shown an adeptness at using the president’s impulses to steer him toward his own priorities. When Mr. Kushner ushered Kim Kardashian West into the Oval Office to speak about commuting the life sentence of an African-American woman named Alice Marie Johnson, Mr. Trump ignored the concerns of his advisers and freed Ms. Johnson, dazzled by his power to grant clemency and Ms. Kardashian’s celebrity.
.. Her supporters argue that she is in an untenable situation if she speaks out in public. Her father said she had addressed the issue with him privately, further inflaming her critics.
.. Mr. Kushner appears to see himself as the custodian of Mr. Trump’s political brand, offering his father-in-law “options,” and has spoken about clearing out the Republican Party of lingering resistance. He has privately said that he has been taking action against “incompetence” and that any tensions are a result of fighting for his father-in-law’s best interests.
.. His detractors say the friction stems from Mr. Kushner’s meddling in things for which he is out of his depth, like when the president, following his own preference, huddled with Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump instead of his top policy advisers before his meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
.. Ms. Richards wrote in a memoir that they had offered her a deal that felt like a “bribe” — continued federal funding for the group in return for a halt to providing abortions.
.. Inside the White House, the couple’s influence is most felt in internal battles, particularly with aides they do not regard as loyal to their mission — or Mr. Trump’s.
.. That is particularly true of Mr. Kushner, who, critics say, shares his father-in-law’s desire for control. Over the course of Mr. Trump’s campaign and presidency, Mr. Kushner has been seen as trying to undercut or as being at odds with a long list of aides — some who remain, many who have left.
The list includes:
- Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski;
- his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and his associates;
- his former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon;
- Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel;
- the White House counselor, Kellyanne Conway;
- the first head of the presidential transition, Chris Christie;
- the former secretary of state, Rex W. Tillerson;
- Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and
- his longtime lawyer Marc E. Kasowitz.
Their privileged permanence as family members has allowed them to outlast other aides in an environment where expectations have been shifted and, at times, lowered on their behalf.
.. Both husband and wife, like Mr. Trump, are said to hang on to grudges, but Mr. Kushner is far more transactional than his wife. Like his father-in-law, he appears to convince himself that fights did not happen if someone has become useful to him.
.. A persistent obstacle to both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump is Mr. Kelly, whose approach to security clearances they feel unfairly targeted them, and who, they have confided to associates, they believe has spread negative information about them.
.. Though they have insisted that they are not trying to play a role in a succession plan for Mr. Kelly, few West Wing staff members believe that.
.. Both Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner are widely believed to support Nick Ayers, the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, as Mr. Kelly’s successor.
Whoever the replacement is would join a new set of aides who — many with the couple’s support — have replaced the familiar faces from the 2016 campaign.
- Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive, was preparing to join the White House, Mr. Kushner, with Ms. Trump’s support, gave him their stamp of approval. It was Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump who wanted
- Mercedes Schlapp, a well-connected Republican consultant, brought into the administration. Mr. Kushner’s ally
- Brad Parscale became the 2020 campaign manager, a move Mr. Kushner told the West Wing staff about on the morning it was publicly announced.
And they regard Stephen Miller, a supporter of some of Mr. Trump’s harshest stands on immigration, as a walking policy encyclopedia.
.. In June, when the United States won its joint bid with Canada and Mexico to host the World Cup in 2026, Mr. Kushner’s team made sure to tell reporters that it happened in part because of the efforts of the president’s son-in-law, who reportedly used some of his international contacts to win enough votes to seal the bid.
.. Ms. Collins found in Ms. Trump what many Republicans most desire: a direct line to a president sometimes at odds with his own party.
.. Ms. Trump has delivered one of the few things she can uniquely accomplish in Washington: Riding in a car together one day, she handed Ms. Collins a phone. The president was on the line.
Journalist Sees ‘Almost No Daylight’ Between Fox News And White House Agendas: Vanity Fair‘s Gabriel Sherman says the president and Fox News host Sean Hannity “speak almost daily, after Hannity’s show, sometimes before, and sometimes for up to an hour a day.”
.. Bill Shine for 20 years was Roger Ailes’ his closest deputy and executive. And Bill Shine has been named in numerous lawsuits that he had direct knowledge of sexual harassment claims filed by Fox News women against Roger Ailes and other senior employees at the network. And these credible allegations are that he not only covered up these allegations, but in some cases enabled them.
And one of the most disturbing that comes to mind is a story that I reported in 2016 for New York magazine about the case of former Fox News Booker Laurie Luhn, who for years had a sexually and psychologically abusive relationship with Roger Ailes. And as Roger Ailes’ deputy, it was Bill Shine’s job to keep tabs on Laurie Luhn and prevent her from going public with these allegations that Ailes had abused her and blackmailed her into a sexual relationship. And I reported it. And it was – perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the story was that Bill Shine arranged for her to be committed to a psychiatric institution when she had a nervous breakdown because Roger Ailes was worried about her going public.
.. And Laurie Luhn alleged in our interviews that Bill Shine was also involved in monitoring her emails and her communications – again, very cult-like to prevent her from speaking to outsiders. So circling back to your question, it’s – to me, it’s mind boggling that someone with this amount of baggage who was too toxic for an institution like Fox News, which has sort of become a shorthand for a toxic company, would become one of the highest-ranking members of the federal government.
GROSS: Were there other employees of former employees of Fox News that alleged that Bill Shine monitored their emails?
SHERMAN: Well, I can’t speak for other employees. I don’t have other instances. I mean, I do know that it was company practice that all company emails were recorded, and Roger Ailes could request the legal department to look at them. So it’s highly likely that Bill Shine was looking at other emails. And I knew – I have direct reporting that indicates Bill Shine participated in Roger Ailes’ use of private investigators to track reporters, including myself, who are writing critically about Fox News.v
.. GROSS: The head of the group Judicial Watch is calling for prosecutors to investigate Bill Shine’s role in the sexual harassment cover-up at Fox News. What have you heard about that?
.. federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York opened an investigation into whether Roger Ailes and other Fox News executives used public company money – because Fox News is owned by 21st Century Fox. It’s a publicly-traded company. And prosecutors in the FBI wanted to know whether they used public company money to help pay off women into these private settlements and use private investigators and other dirty tricks to cover up this widespread culture of harassment.
.. it’s impossible to have a conversation about Bill Shine and Donald Trump without really exploring Sean Hannity’s role in becoming the de facto chief of staff of this White House and probably the most powerful political commentator in recent memory.
.. Sean Hannity was almost left for dead during the Obama years. His ratings were in decline. His show was moved from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., a less desirable hour.
.. Stormy Daniels, Summer Zervos – those suits are making their way through the courts.
.. I’ve been really struck by the parallels between the cultures of the two organizations. And in many ways, Bill Shine has gone from working for a megalomaniacal boss in Roger Ailes to going to working for the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. And they are very similar personalities.
.. I think Bill Shine has a lot to offer Donald Trump because of his experience helping Roger Ailes navigate a cascade of sexual harassment allegations, and not only allegations against Roger Ailes but other high-profile members at Fox News. So I think Bill Shine has a tool kit. He knows how these scandals have been weathered in the past. And it seems to reason that he can be part of Donald Trump’s war room when he has to deal with these in the future.
.. GROSS: At the same time, you can argue that if President Trump is accused of sexual harassment, as he has been, it’s not a good look to hire somebody who is accused of enabling a climate of sexual harassment.
SHERMAN: I think that’s true if you’re applying kind of the norms and logic that have governed politicians in the past. I think with Donald Trump, it’s an entirely different playbook. And I think a way of example of looking at that is looking at Donald Trump’s support for Judge Roy Moore
.. And the truth is that people around the president say that his only way to survive the sexual harassment allegations is to double down himself – to actually run towards the scandal, not away from it. And we’re actually seeing that playing out in recent days with his unabashed support for Congressman Jim Jordan who has been credibly accused of at least being aware of sexual abuse at Ohio State University and not doing anything to address it.