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.
Can’t anybody here play this game?
The Trump administration, if you haven’t noticed, is undergoing one of its frequent paroxysms of incompetence.
On the border, the administration holds hundreds of migrant children in deplorable conditions: filthy, frightened and hungry. The president ordered and then called off a massive immigration raid, and, in the middle of the chaos, the administration’s top border security official resigned Tuesday.
Overseas, the administration is stumbling toward war with Iran, ordering and then canceling an attack. Iran on Tuesday said the White House is “afflicted by mental retardation,” and Trump responded by threatening Iran with “obliteration.”
Here in Washington, Trump just appointed a new press secretary for the third time and a White House communications director for the seventh time. He refuses to say whether he has confidence in his FBI director, his third, and he’s publicly feuding with the Federal Reserve chairman he appointed over whether Trump can fire him. Meantime, Trump is defying a Trump-appointed watchdog who called for the firing of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway for illegal political activities, and he’s brushing off the latest credible accusation of sexual misconduct by saying the accuser is “not my type.” And Trump’s protocol chief is quitting on the eve of the Group of 20 summit, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday, amid allegations that he carried a whip in the office.
The chaos takes on many forms, but most of it stems from a single cause: Trump’s determination to run the country like “The Apprentice.”
The common thread to the mayhem and bungling is Trump’s insistence on staffing his government with officials serving in temporary, “acting” roles at the pleasure of the president and without the stature or protection of Senate confirmation. This allows Trump to demand absolute subservience from appointees. Because he can replace them at will, they don’t contradict him. But this tentative status also means they lack authority within their agencies and the stature to stand up to Trump when he’s wrong.
It’s no mere coincidence that the border debacle is the work of Trump’s Homeland Security Department, where every major border- and immigration-related agency is led by an “acting” official. Trump’s acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, John Sanders, just resigned after only two months on the job. The Post’s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report that he will be replaced by the current acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mark Morgan (who got the job after praising Trump’s policies on Fox News). Morgan, in turn, has only been on the job for a couple of months since Trump fired yet another acting director of ICE. Trump had also ousted his DHS secretary and his head of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and he has tabbed an “immigration czar” who has not yet accepted the job.
It’s no mere coincidence, either, that the Iran debacle is occurring at a time when the Pentagon has been leaderless since Jim Mattis resigned as defense secretary in December. Patrick Shanahan had been the longest-serving “acting” defense secretary in history until last week, when Trump named another acting secretary, Mark Esper. Both men were reportedly with Trump when he ordered the Iran attack, which he later canceled after learning about possible casualties. It’s hard to imagine Trump ordering up a military attack on Mattis’s watch without first getting a casualty estimate.
And it’s no mere coincidence that the man at the fulcrum of chaotic White House decision-making, chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, also serves in “acting” status. Politico’s Nancy Cook reports that Trump is tiring of Mulvaney (he had the nerve to cough during a Trump TV interview), though he might not yet replace him with a fourth chief of staff, because he likes Mulvaney’s “hands-off approach” to Trump’s “whims and decision-making style.” If he weren’t “hands-off,” he’d be fired.
Trump is unabashed in his preference for this “Apprentice”-style, “you’re fired” leadership. It’s a theme of a new book about Trump’s Cabinet, “The Best People,” by Yahoo News national correspondent Alexander Nazaryan. Of his fondness for acting officials, Trump told Nazaryan: “It gives me a lot of leeway. It gives me great flexibility. I do like it. It’s such a big deal to get people approved nowadays. . . . We have actings, and we’re seeing how we like them.”
In other words, the administration is run by people on perpetual tryout, perpetual probation, unable to make long-term plans or to command the respect of those they (nominally) lead. The Federal Aviation Administration, which botched its handling of the Boeing 737 Max crashes, has been led by acting officials. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which bungled the recall of Fisher-Price’s Rock ’n Play bassinet, has been run by an acting chairwoman. (She announced last week she will step down at the end of her term in October.)
Now, Trump’s “actings” are causing babies to go hungry, and they may soon bumble us into war with Iran. But that’s okay, because Trump likes the “flexibility.”
The $44 million proposal includes about $30 million allocated for plaintiffs, a broad category that includes alleged victims, former Weinstein Co. employees and studio creditors, and would cover the plaintiffs’ lawyers fees, according to the same people familiar with the matter. About $14 million would be used to pay legal fees of Mr. Weinstein’s associates, including his former board members who were named as defendants in lawsuits, the people said.
The money would come from insurance policies, including those held by his former studio, the people said.
The proposed agreement wouldn’t affect a criminal case pending against Mr. Weinstein in Manhattan, which charges him with rape and other sex crimes. He has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. His trial is scheduled to begin in September.
The civil lawsuits, filed by women in the U.S., U.K. and Canada, name more than 15 defendants, including Mr. Weinstein and associates who were on the company’s board. Some of the alleged incidents in a proposed class-action lawsuit go back more than 25 years. The women claim Mr. Weinstein’s associates helped facilitate his alleged sexual abuse, which they have denied.
A lawyer for plaintiffs in the proposed class-action suit didn’t respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for insurance company Chubb Ltd. and a lawyer for a committee representing Weinstein Co. creditors declined to comment.
Some Republicans are actively opposing his consideration for the Federal Reserve Board, while others are standing by the president.
Several Republicans, too, have voiced their opposition, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has even gone so far as to urge members of the caucus to reach out to the White House and clue the administration into their concerns before the nomination is official, CNN reports. Yet, while some Republicans have taken issue with Cain’s nomination, others — at least publicly — say they’re plenty open to considering him.
“I think he’s very qualified, he’s a business guy, he’s got experience on the board … out there in Kansas City, so I think he’s a great choice,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), one of Trump’s reliable allies on the Hill who also sits on the Senate Banking Committee, which would oversee Cain’s confirmation hearing.
.. “I think sexual misconduct is wrong,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), while adding, “if it’s a barrier to people being in public office, the president wouldn’t be president.”.. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) was among one of the earliest Republicans to come out against Cain, and Romney has said he worries Cain’s presence would make the Fed a more partisan body, given the former executive’s longstanding political support for Trump. Romney argued last week that Cain would likely help Trump fulfill his plans to slash interest rates and harm the independence of the institution guiding America’s monetary policy.
.. Growing blowback against Cain’s nomination has led Senate Republicans to stage a behind-the-scenes effort to prevent his selection from being formalized by the White House, Politico reports.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that he would be confirmed,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
Still, there are lawmakers within the Republican Party who remain bullish on Cain’s chances. Supporting Cain could also be a means to align themselves more closely with Trump, especially ahead of 2020.
“I think he’d probably be confirmed,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who noted that he did not see Republicans as divided on the matter.
But Cornyn, a top Senate Republican who recently pushed back at Trump’s staffing changes at the Department of Homeland Security, added that he’d like to see more consultation from the White House on nominees down the road.
“I don’t think it’s a given that everybody whose name gets floated, without vetting and without consultation, could get confirmed,” he said.
Republican seem less worried about Stephen Moore
Moore, the second person Trump has said he intends to appoint to the Fed, appears to be getting a warmer reception from Senate Republicans, even though he also faces challenges of his own.
Democrats also view Moore, a current fellow at conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, as a baldly political choice — and pointedly wonder whether someone who’s encountered personal finance issues in the past is qualified to help run the US’s central bank
.. As Amanda Sakuma wrote for Vox, Moore was previously held in contempt of court for failing to pay child support and alimony to his ex-wife in the wake of their divorce settlement. He also owes more than $75,000 in taxes to the IRS, which he says he’s been paying back in the aftermath of what he claimed was a paperwork-related mishap, according to the Guardian.
Those issues, however, aren’t necessarily disqualifying for all Senate Republicans; multiple lawmakers mentioned that they were familiar with Moore and spoke positively of his consideration.
“I know Stephen Moore, he’s a smart man, he’s the head of Club for Growth,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). “We have to do this in regular order, but I think he would probably be a good voice on the Fed. One, he’s got to be nominated first. Second, he’s got to be confirmed.”
“I said, ‘Pay your taxes; pay your support!’” Shelby said, when asked about Moore’s financial problems.
“Stephen is a solid guy, I know Stephen pretty well. I think Stephen has been right about a few things, with regard to the Fed’s treatment of interest rates, especially,” Cramer said. “I want to hear more about the specific issues surrounding some of his financial situations.”
The North Dakota senator added that he did not see Moore’s run-in with the IRS or the divorce settlement being disqualifying for his nomination if he had cleared up both issues.
Some Republicans said they’d be open to vetting both Moore and Cain further as part of the confirmation process, and making a decision after more steps had been taken. The Senate confirmation process is typically used to scrutinize potential concerns about nominees, though these lawmakers could be trying to diplomatically dodge the question of where they actually stand on the latest of Trump’s controversial nominees.
“They’re unconventional picks, and I want to see what the banking committee hearings reveal,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). “I’m sure there will be many, many questions about both nominees.”
It is almost unthinkable that there will be a second Supreme Court justice taking his seat under suspicions of perjury and sexual misconduct.
There is a reason Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will be short and feature only two witnesses, the Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Christine Blasey Ford. Republicans have designed the hearing to end in a “he said, she said” stalemate. No matter how credible Dr. Blasey is, isolating her as a lone accuser is the most effective political strategy for confirming Judge Kavanaugh.
His strategy will be simple: categorical denial.
.. Republicans will then be able to claim that fairness had been served because both witnesses were heard. But Americans, denied the testimony of other relevant witnesses who could support Dr. Blasey’s account and denied an F.B.I. investigation into other evidence, won’t be any closer to the truth.
.. This week four people who know Dr. Blasey, including her husband, signed affidavits and submitted them to the Judiciary Committee saying she told them about being sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh before he was nominated by President Trump. Their statements provide important corroboration, and if the Senate was really interested in learning the truth, these people would be called to testify.
.. And then there is Mark Judge, whom Dr. Blasey said participated with Judge Kavanaugh in the high school assault on her and whom Ms. Swetnick said helped him lure girls into “side rooms” at parties to be “gang raped.” The Judiciary Committee has refused to subpoena Mr. Judge, who reportedly was hiding out at a beach house on the Delaware shore
.. Unschooled in the art of political communication, facing questions from not just skeptical senators but also an experienced sex crimes prosecutor retained by the committee’s Republican majority, she must hope that the power of her story, the facts of what happened so long ago, are strong enough to convince the Senate and the millions of Americans watching on television. And she will not have the final say.
Her testimony will be followed by Judge Kavanaugh’s denial. According to his prepared remarks, he will allow that he was not a complete angel in high school, but will absolutely deny that the encounter with Dr. Blasey ever took place. He will have the last word.
.. There were people willing to be called before the committee who would have testified under oath about Judge Thomas’s interest in pornography, information that also would have buttressed Ms. Hill’s testimony. But none were called.
Instead, Senator Joe Biden, the Democratic committee chairman, fearing political backlash, abruptly gaveled the hearings to an end. Anita Hill remained isolated as the lone accuser.
.. It was only in the wee morning hours that I learned that there was a second woman, Angela Wright, who had been ready to testify that Judge Thomas, in the office, had asked about the size of her breasts. Several senators told me years later, when I was reporting for a book, “Strange Justice,” that if Ms. Wright had been allowed to testify, Judge Thomas might not have been confirmed.
.. There were four other women who would have supported aspects of Ms. Hill’s testimony and four others who knew about Judge Thomas’s interest in pornography. At least Hill was permitted to call as witnesses friends in whom she had confided about the sexual harassment she endured. Dr. Blasey won’t have even that.
The revelations of the past year have come as a life-changing shock. Hard as it may be to believe, we did not know.
Let me be precise. We were aware of disrespectful behavior in the workplace—men talking over women in meetings, taking credit for their ideas and their work, paying them less than men doing the same jobs, and passing over them for assignments and promotions they deserved. As we too slowly became sensitive to these practices, we did our best to oppose them.
But we were not aware of gross indecency. I cannot imagine why a man would deliberately expose himself to a woman—at a party, in a hotel room, anywhere. But it seems that this misconduct is not rare.
.. We were even less aware of the pervasive abuse of power to coerce unwanted sex. We had heard about Hollywood’s casting couch. But those of us outside the entertainment industry had trouble distinguishing legend from fact. Because I had spent decades in academia, I knew of cases in which professors and students had entered into intimate relationships, and I supported rules that prohibited such relationships in a wide range of circumstances, even when they could reasonably be described as consensual.
But taking advantage of a hierarchical professional relationship to obtain sex is different. So is taking advantage of another’s inebriation. So is pressuring a woman to drink too much, or to ingest drugs that make resistance impossible. So is scheduling an ostensibly professional meeting in a hotel room and creating an atmosphere of intimidation and fear. So, of course, is rape, and the attempt to commit it, whether or not it is successful.
No doubt others knew what was going on and chose to overlook or suppress it. Men like me were ignorant not because we stopped our ears or averted our gaze. We were clueless because fear and the dynamics of unequal power created a zone of silence and a cone of darkness.
Several young women with whom I have discussed this column find it hard to believe that people like me were so unaware of what was going on around us. All I can say is, we were. There may well be a duty of care—which begins with active, willed awareness of our surroundings—that we failed to discharge. That we needed to be told may be an indicator of failure.
Still, had any woman ever come to my office with a story of harassment, abuse or assault, I’d like to believe that I would have reacted strongly. It never happened. Only now I can begin to understand why it did not.
But now that people like me do know, we cannot remain on the sidelines. We have a responsibility to act. What can we do? How can we become part of the solution?
First, we can help bring about a situation in which the survivors of harassment and abuse feel safer and freer to tell their stories. (I cannot say “completely” safe or free because the malefactors and their sympathizers will always find a way to harass those who come forward.) When serious allegations emerge, independent fact-finding inquiries should be standard, not optional, whether the venue is business, academia or the Senate.
Second, we can step back and allow those whose voices have been diminished to take the lead. Women constitute a growing share of the House of Representatives and many other institutions, including my own. We should support their efforts to transform these institutions.
Third and most important, we can help crystallize the current moment into new norms of conduct. For example, schools are critical norm-forming institutions, and they should instruct children and young people about appropriate conduct in classrooms, on playgrounds and at parties.
When I get to my office every morning, I look at the pictures of my grandchildren that adorn my bookshelves. In one of them, two of my little grandsons are wearing matching shirts that read “Boys will be boys: kind, caring, respectful.” This is more than a wish: It’s a prayer—my prayer. I’ll do what I can to make it a reality.
In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court. It failed on both counts.
As that same committee, on which sit some of the same members as nearly three decades ago, now moves forward with the Kavanaugh confirmation proceedings, the integrity of the court, the country’s commitment to addressing sexual violence as a matter of public interest, and the lives of the two principal witnesses who will be testifying hang in the balance.
.. the public expects better from our government than we got in 1991, when our representatives performed in ways that gave employers permission to mishandle workplace harassment complaints throughout the following decades.
.. That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement.
.. To do better, the 2018 Senate Judiciary Committee must demonstrate a clear understanding that sexual violence is a social reality to which elected representatives must respond.
.. The details of what that process would look like should be guided by experts who have devoted their careers to understanding sexual violence.
.. Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee. Outcomes in such investigations are more reliable and less likely to be perceived as tainted by partisanship. Senators must then rely on the investigators’ conclusions, along with advice from experts, to frame the questions they ask Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Blasey.
.. The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault.
.. Do not rush these hearings. Doing so would not only signal that sexual assault accusations are not important — hastily appraising this situation would very likely lead to facts being overlooked that are necessary for the Senate and the public to evaluate.
.. Process is important, but it cannot erase the difficulty of testifying on national television about the sexual assault that Dr. Blasey says occurred when she was 15 years old. Nor will it negate the fact that as she sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr. Blasey will be outresourced. Encouraging letters from friends and strangers may help, but she cannot match the organized support that Judge Kavanaugh has.