President Trump injected himself into the national debate over sexual harassment again, a risky move that opens Trump up to charges of hypocrisy over his past behavior and his reluctance to rebuke Republicans who have been accused of misconduct.
Trump went after Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), after a woman accused the senator of forcibly kissing and groping her.
The woman, a news anchor named Leeann Tweeden, released a photo of Franken leering into the camera and touching her while she slept during a USO trip in 2006. Trump responded over Twitter, saying the picture “speaks a thousand words” and ripping Franken for “lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”
Trump responded to the Franken allegations, accusing the senator of hypocrisy on sexual harassment issues.
“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words,” Trump tweeted. “Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? …..”
Franken, once a rising star on the left who had been considered a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, is suddenly a pariah in liberal circles.
But the blowback against Trump for seeking to capitalize on Franken’s downfall has been just as swift.
Trump’s senior aides and advisers have been swamped with questions about why the president is comfortable attacking Franken when more than a dozen women have made similar accusations about him.
And Trump’s critics are howling about a double-standard, pointing to the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape and noting that the president has stopped short of demanding Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) drop out of the race amid disturbing allegations that he molested young girls.
“If your moral outrage has been exhausted, Trump always knows how to refuel the tank,” said Andrew Weinstein, a GOP operative and ‘Never Trump’ Republican.
“He has no sense of irony or decency,” Weinstein said. “Rather than tallying hypothetical Franken photos, Trump should be held to account for his scarlet number — the 16 alleged victims of his own sexual misconduct.”
Trump’s tweets have forced the White House to re-litigate the “Access Hollywood” tape, which nearly sunk Trump’s presidential campaign a month before Election Day in 2016. In it, Trump boasts about groping women and about how wealthy, powerful and famous men like himself get away with lewd behavior.
“He was apologetic about [the tape] when it surfaced,” White House legislative director Marc Short said in a Friday interview on CNN. “He apologized to his wife and family and the American people about what he considered locker room behavior. He is not trying to excuse it. That’s different than very visual evidence of what Al Franken did.
“The president is making the case that Al Franken was out condemning Roy Moore and others just a month ago and there is a level of hypocrisy there.”
In the wake of the “Access Hollywood” release, multiple women came forward to accuse Trump of varying degrees of sexual misconduct.
Now the wave of harassment claims against powerful men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill has Trump’s accusers speaking out once again.
People magazine ran a story on Friday quoting several of Trump’s accusers, who said they felt their stories had been ignored since the campaign but that the cascade of new allegations has drawn new attention to their claims.
“It’s been simmering on the stove with the lid on, like a pressure cooker,” Natasha Stoynoff, a writer who accused Trump of forcibly kissing her in 2005, says in the People story. “But now the heat’s on and it’s going to boil and the lid is going to blast off.”
The president has denied the allegations and threatened to sue his accusers during the campaign, although he hasn’t filed any lawsuits against them since becoming president. The White House has said the women are lying.
“The president has spoken about this multiple times throughout the campaign and has denied all of those allegations,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Friday’s press briefing.
Sanders said she did not know why Trump didn’t follow through with his threatened legal action.
Trump’s attacks against Franken have also been complicated by Moore’s troubles in Alabama.
Most Republicans in Washington have cut ties with Moore in the wake of the allegations of sexual misconduct against him, repulsed by the thought of serving with someone accused of sexually assaulting minors and fearing he’ll tarnish the Republican brand ahead of critical midterm elections.
GOP leaders in Congress have called on Moore to drop out of the race and are openly talking about refusing to seat him if he wins.
The White House has stopped short of calling on Moore to drop out of the race and Trump has been notably quiet on the controversy, raising questions about why Franken’s misdeeds have attracted the president’s attention while Trump has still not commented on Moore.
Sanders vented her frustration with reporters in the briefing room on Friday after the first five questions she fielded pertained to Trump, Franken and Moore. She denied that the president has been silent on the issue, noting that Trump said during his overseas trip that Moore should drop out of the race if the allegations are true.
Sanders also said that Trump supports the Republican National Committee’s decision to stop providing resources to the Moore campaign.
“He has weighed in on Roy Moore,” Sanders said. “He did it while on a foreign trip in Asia. I did it repeatedly yesterday. In fact, I took about 15 questions on that topic … so to suggest that this White House and specifically this president hasn’t weighed in is just inaccurate and wrong.”
Still, Trump’s aides and advisers spent Friday struggling in front of the cameras to answer questions about why Trump is not a hypocrite for attacking Franken.
Sanders argued that the difference between Trump and Franken is that the Minnesota Democrat had admitted to wrongdoing, while Trump has maintained his innocence.
On the issue of Moore, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News Channel that Trump always weighs in on the news of the day — in this case, Franken — while “the Roy Moore story is eight days old.”
Short said on CNN that Trump had already done all he could do to keep Moore out of office by backing his challenger, Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), in the primary.
“The president went down to Alabama and campaigned against Roy Moore,” Short said. “He campaigned for Luther Strange. The president was active in this campaign. He chose a different candidate … since the allegations surfaced, the president — even when he was traveling overseas — put out a statement saying if the allegations are true, he should step aside.”
Trump’s allies insist that they aren’t nervous that the president has made himself vulnerable on the issue. They believe the “Access Hollywood” tape and allegations from women were litigated during the campaign and that voters backed Trump anyway.
“Our enemies are never going to cut us any slack, so you just have to go on the attack and not worry about that,” a Trump campaign adviser said.