Political News

Trump attacks Gillibrand and blames Democrats for women's allegations

Posted December 12, 2017 6:19 p.m. EST
Updated December 13, 2017 12:18 p.m. EST

President Donald Trump aggressively returned to the issue of sexual harassment Tuesday, again dismissing his own accusers as fabricators and attacking a female Democratic senator as a “lightweight” who “would do anything” for campaign contributions.

The president’s attacks came in early morning Twitter posts after three of the accusers had come forward Monday to renew their charges from last year that Trump had sexually assaulted them before he entered politics, and after the senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., had called for him to resign.

While Trump weathered the accusations during his presidential campaign, the flood of recent allegations against powerful men has revived the issue of sexual harassment with a newfound fury. By inserting himself directly into the discussion, the president ensured that calls for renewed scrutiny of the women’s allegations would gain new energy and prominence.

Gillibrand was quick to fire back, saying she would not be silenced by a president whose comments she described as “a sexist smear.”

“It was a sexist smear attempting to silence my voice, and I will not be silenced on this issue,” she said. “Neither will the women who stood up to the president yesterday,” she added.

Gillibrand first learned of the president’s Twitter post while she was attending a bipartisan Bible study Tuesday morning, one of her aides said. The aide also said that Gillibrand had met with Trump just once in his office, several years ago, and that his daughter Ivanka was at the meeting.

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who said he was with Gillibrand at Bible study when the tweet was sent, said, “I think this is simply one of those cases where it is best if we look at what the president does and not pay attention to the tweets.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later denied that Trump’s tweet contained a sexual reference, saying that he was referring to general corruption in the U.S. political system.

Asked whether the president would apologize to people who read the tweet as sexual innuendo, Sanders said he would not. “Only if your mind is in the gutter would you have read it that way,” she said.

“He’s not alleging anything. He’s talking about the way that our system functions as it is,” Sanders said at a White House news conference. “That comment, frankly isn’t something new,” she added, saying that “he’s used that same terminology many times in reference to men. There’s no way that this is sexist at all.”

Senate Democrats, including Gillibrand, forced the resignation last week of Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., clearing away any ambiguity over their push to hold the president accountable after the claims of his accusers. About 60 Democratic women in Congress demanded an inquiry into the women’s allegations against the president, an unlikely prospect given Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

Gillibrand’s Senate colleagues quickly rallied to her side. Among the more forceful was Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who said on Twitter, “.@realDonaldTrump is a misogynist, compulsive liar, and admitted sexual predator. Attacks on Kirsten are the latest example that no one is safe from this bully. He must resign.”

The president was pointed in his criticism of Gillibrand, saying she “would do anything” for campaign contributions, without providing details about what he meant.

On Tuesday afternoon, Trump ignored a shouted question from a reporter about what he meant in his Twitter post. “In his tweets, whether intentionally or not, Donald Trump cues these gendered beliefs that women are less capable (or ‘lightweight’) and that ambition in women is something to be maligned,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, in an emailed message.

Trump’s heated response to criticism from a member of Congress revealed yet another break with precedent from his predecessors.

“Historically, members of Congress have used mean, crude, over-the-line words to attack sitting presidents, and many presidents try to rise above and not return the fire,” said Ari Fleischer, a White House spokesman for President George W. Bush. “Donald Trump has made a conscious decision to return the fire. That’s his style and I cannot say he’s wrong to do it. It wasn’t my style. It wasn’t President Bush’s style. His instructions were to rise above it.”

Christine Matthews, a Republican pollster, said Trump was following his playbook by going “full force against accusers.”

“I think he’s worse with women, but he just throws every insult that he can possibly throw,” she said. “That ‘would do anything to get elected’ is fairly ominous — it can be taken in a way that is very suggestive, and I think that is obviously horrible.”

She said that the political climate had changed and that there was no returning to a time when sexual harassment was tolerated. “Having a president who attacks other women for how they look or suggests that they are sexually promiscuous or liars, it’s going to hurt the party overall,” Matthews said.

The president also blamed Democrats for the resurgence of accusations against him from women in the past, saying Tuesday that the “fabricated stories” were a result of Democrats being unable to prove his campaign colluded with the Russians.

The special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with people in Trump’s circle has dominated his first year in office.

Trump’s claims that he has “never met” his accusers do not appear to be credible. He has met at least five of the more than a dozen women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

Natasha Stoynoff, a reporter for People magazine, attended Trump’s wedding to Melania Knauss in January 2005. Later that year, she interviewed the couple for a story on their anniversary at Mar-a-Lago, where she says Trump assaulted her.

Summer Zervos was a contestant on “The Apprentice,” Trump’s long-running reality television show. She says Trump made unwanted sexual advances toward her in 2007.

Two of Trump’s accusers have participated in beauty pageants he ran. Temple McDowell, who represented Utah in Miss USA 1997, told NBC News that Trump kissed her on the lips during a rehearsal dinner that year. Ninni Laaksonen, who competed in Miss Universe as Miss Finland, said Trump groped her in 2006. There are photos of Trump with both women.

A fifth woman, Jessica Drake, an adult film actress, said Trump groped her at a golf tournament in 2006. Drake presented an undated photo of her appearing with Trump in a news conference last year.

The president chose to weigh in on the politically charged issue of harassment on the day voters in Alabama were deciding whether to elect Republican Roy Moore. At least six women in the state have said Moore had inappropriate contact with them when they were teenagers.

His opponent, Doug Jones, a Democrat, has repeatedly highlighted those women’s accusations in the campaign, and the election is a test of whether Republican women, in particular, find those allegations credible.

The president also sent a tweet urging Alabamians to vote for Moore, deriding Jones as a “puppet” of the Democratic leaders in Congress, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.

During the presidential campaign, several women accused Trump of sexual harassment or groping. On Monday, several women spoke in New York City to retell their experiences, saying they hoped that recent accusations against other powerful figures would prompt their stories to be taken more seriously. The recent spate of accusations against leading men in government and the media, including Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Franken, has fueled a public discussion of sexual harassment.

In his resignation speech, Franken said he found it ironic that he would leave office while the president had bragged on tape about sexually assaulting women.

Franken was referring to a 2005 recording of Trump while filming a segment for “Access Hollywood” in which he boasted about how he could treat women however he wanted because he was famous, including kissing them and grabbing their genitals. The recording emerged about a month before the 2016 election.

Gillibrand was the first Democratic senator to publicly say that Franken should resign, and she has been a leading voice on Capitol Hill against sexual harassment of women.