Trump calls for 'due process' in abuse cases

Saturday , February 10, 2018 - 10:00 PM

Anne Gearan and Katie Zezima

(c) 2018, The Washington Post.

President Donald Trump on Saturday appeared to side with men accused of domestic abuse or sexual misconduct, following a week of turmoil surrounding allegations of spousal abuse against two male aides that brought the national “Me Too” movement inside the White House.

In a Twitter posting, Trump questioned whether “due process” is being given to those accused of wrongdoing and expressed sympathy for their damaged careers and sullied reputations.

“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused - life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

The brief message, which made no mention of the accusers, marks the president’s most pointed response to the ongoing national reckoning with sexual harassment and abuse and put him seemingly at odds with a movement that in recent months has led to the downfall of several powerful men accused of abhorrent behavior.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a leader in the effort to combat sexual harassment in Congress, said her stomach turned when she saw Trump’s tweet Saturday morning.

“The new mantra is, ‘We believe the women,‘ and he is frozen in, ‘I believe the men.‘ “ Speier said in an interview. “He’s beyond rehabilitation in my view.”

White House spokesmen did not respond to a request for comment about which cases Trump was referring to and whether he also thinks that the lives of accusers can be shattered and destroyed.

But Saturday’s tweet follows spousal abuse allegations against two Trump aides that roiled the White House over the past week. Both men left their posts despite denying the claims by ex-wives of physical and emotional abuse.

Trump did not mention the aides by name, and he did not specify what kind of “allegation” he meant. But the tweet seemed to respond directly to the departure Wednesday of staff secretary Rob Porter, whose two former wives publicly detailed abuse, and the departure Friday of speechwriter David Sorensen, whose ex-wife made similar claims.

Trump stressed to reporters Friday that Porter claims innocence and added that he hopes Porter “will have a great career ahead of him.”

Trump’s statement Saturday also comes as some discomfort has begun to be expressed about the possibility that innocent people or complicated situations are getting swept up in the “Me Too” movement - a sentiment he appeared to be seizing upon.

Republican strategist Katie Packer Beeson, who penned a column set to run Sunday titled “Has the #MeToo movement gone #too far?,” said she agrees with the premise of Trump’s tweet, but argued that the president is conflating two things and does not think the sentiment applies to Porter and Sorensen, who have credible allegations made against them.

“I also think that in Donald Trump’s very glossy world, wife beaters don’t look like Rob Porter,” she said. “Wife beaters look like big hairy, sweaty men in tank tops, covered in tattoos who stumble home drunk and beat their wives. They don’t look like fashion models. He can’t accept that somebody like that might have a huge character flaw.”

Advocates for abuse victims say false allegations are rare but do occur, adding it also is not uncommon for men to claim that wives or partners falsely claim abuse to gain leverage in divorce or custody matters.

“It’s unfortunate that the president’s instinct never seems to be to side with victims. False allegations are rare, and due process is important, but in the wake of #MeToo, more survivors are feeling empowered to speak publicly,” said Jodi Omear, a spokeswoman for the abuse advocacy group RAINN.

Trump has said little previously about the “Me Too” movement, which has led to a reexamination of power dynamics and expectations for men and women in the workplace. Casino mogul Steve Wynn, a prominent Republican donor and Trump friend, is among the latest powerful men to lose their jobs over allegations of sexual misconduct. Wynn denies committing any harassment or abuse.

Trump was asked by reporters in November about the movement and responded: “Women are very special. I think it’s a very special time, a lot of things are coming out, and I think that’s good for our society and I think it’s very, very good for women, and I’m very happy a lot of these things are coming out. I’m very happy it’s being exposed.”

But Trump’s sympathetic response Saturday fits a pattern in which he has defended other men accused of harassment or abuse while casting doubt on accusers - including when allegations have been made against him.

Trump has denied accusations from more than a dozen women that he has sexually abused them or behaved inappropriately. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has deflected questions about the intersection between that history and the current climate of exposing past behavior by saying voters were satisfied with Trump’s denials.

Jessica Leeds, who alleges Trump put his hand up her skirt during an airplane flight in the 1980s, said in an interview that Trump never acknowledges the women who make these accusations.

“He is saying that these are all allegations and isn’t a shame that it’s ruining the life of somebody without, of course, making any acknowledgment that the sexual abuse or aggression ruined the life of the other person,” she said. “Women remember what happened to them, what they had on, how they got out of it. They remember in graphic detail if they were 8 years old or 50 years old. Men, it’s a matter of them scratching an itch.”

Trump and his allies rarely draw distinctions among the women and their accounts, although Trump made an exception in responding to accusations from Leeds.

“Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you,” Trump said during a campaign rally in North Carolina just before the election.

Days later, during a campaign speech near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Trump said: “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.” Trump never sued any of the women.

As a candidate, Trump acknowledged he had made lewd comments about grabbing women’s crotches after The Washington Post reported on a recording of Trump making these claims. “When you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump said on a hot mic before recording a segment of “Access Hollywood” in 2005.

Trump denied making any such assaults and dismissed the recording as “locker room” talk.

Among the other men he has publicly defended or sympathized with are conservative media titan Roger Ailes and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, both accused of serial abuse of women in the workplace. After Ailes was ousted as chief executive of Fox News in 2016, Trump questioned the motives of some of Ailes’ accusers. Ailes denied the allegations.

In April last year, Trump said that O’Reilly - who had paid millions of dollars in settlements to five women - was “a good person” and should not have settled.

“I don’t think Bill did anything wrong,” Trump said.

Trump said much the same about Porter, a top aide who spent a lot of time with the president in his role as staff secretary, in remarks to reporters Friday.

“We certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him,” Trump said. “He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, but you’ll have to talk to him about that.”

Trump had a similar response to allegations that Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama had preyed on girls as young as 14 when he was in his 30s.

“He totally denies it,” Trump said of Moore after The Washington Post first reported the allegations. “He says it didn’t happen.”

Trump’s inclination to sympathize with men whose professional lives may be harmed by accusations can be selective.

In October 2017, soon after Democratic mega-donor Harvey Weinstein’s company fired him, Trump was asked by reporters about the allegations and responded: “I’ve known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I’m not all surprised to see it.” He was then asked about his own behavior and responded: “That’s locker room. That’s locker room.”

Trump’s response to the Porter case also contrasts with Vice President Mike Pence’s strongly worded reaction to the allegations.

“I was appalled when I learned of the allegations against Rob Porter,” Pence said in an NBC interview Friday from South Korea, where he was attending the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. “There is no tolerance in this White House and no place in America for domestic abuse.”

Speier said it fell to Pence to clean up for his boss.

“I think his tweet shows utter contempt for women, and it’s incomprehensible to me that he has not been able to come out and say how vile domestic violence is and how it has no place in society and especially not in the White House,” Speier said of Trump. “Not one word about that.”

Republican congressional leaders Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., did not comment Saturday on Trump’s tweet or their view on whether Trump is appropriately handling issues of sexual harassment and abuse.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has said Trump should resign over the abuse allegations against him, said through a spokesman that Trump “has shown through words and actions that he doesn’t value women.”

“The lives of survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse are being shattered every day,” Gillibrand added. “If he wants due process for the over dozen sexual assault allegations against him, let’s have congressional hearings tomorrow.”

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The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.

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