From the White House to Congress to the Supreme Court, Washington has had its share of sexual scandals. But the #MeToo wave exposing sexual misconduct which began in Hollywood slammed into the U.S. capital this week, triggering a dizzying slew of allegations, apologies and resignations.
Democratic Senator Al Franken said he was sorry after a radio talk show host accused him of forcibly kissing her in 2006—two years before voters in Minnesota sent him to the Senate—and for posing for a picture which showed him groping her breasts as she slept.
President Donald Trump, despite numerous allegations that he has personally engaged in lewd conduct toward women, was quick to pile on, calling him “Al Frankenstien” [sic] and saying the picture was “really bad.” When asked by reporters on Friday the difference between the allegations against Trump and those against Franken, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders replied: “Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t. I think that’s a very clear distinction.”
Trump’s Twitter attack on the Democratic senator was in stark contrast to his relative silence over another scandal—allegations that the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, Roy Moore, once preyed on teenage girls.
Meanwhile, two female members of the House of Representatives—one Democrat and one Republican—have accused two lawmakers, who they declined to name, of sexual harassment. And a congresswoman’s chief of staff resigned amid allegations that he had sexually harassed co-workers.
Former president George H.W. Bush, 93, has also found himself in the line of fire, accused by half a dozen women of groping them during photo ops, both before and after he became confined to a wheelchair.
“There are lot of nervous people around wondering what—who will be next,” Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told Fox News.
One of the most recent and high-profile cases of sexual misconduct in Congress involved the former Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to making illegal payments to hush up his molestation of teenage boys.
Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas’s Senate confirmation hearing in 1991 was overshadowed by allegations he sexually harassed a staffer, Anita Hill, charges which he denied. And then of course there is former Democratic president Bill Clinton, who admitted to having sexual relations with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, while serving in the White House.
The Trump presidential campaign repeatedly brought up Clinton’s indiscretions during the bitter 2016 White House race against his wife Hillary. At the same time, the Trump campaign rejected the claims of multiple women that the billionaire real estate tycoon had acted inappropriately towards them—a pattern of behavior Trump more or less admitted in a notorious 2005 recording.
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them,” he said in the audiotape, which surfaced during the campaign. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything,” Trump said.
On Capitol Hill, Congress is attempting to be proactive in containing the fallout from the new allegations against lawmakers. Republican speaker Paul Ryan announced this week that the House would adopt “mandatory anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training” for lawmakers and their staff.
“Our goal is not only to raise awareness, but also make abundantly clear that harassment in any form has no place in this institution,” Ryan said.
The Senate made anti-harassment training mandatory last week. With the debate over sexual misconduct roiling American institutions, a Democratic candidate for governor in Ohio came out Friday with a somewhat unusual statement.
Bill O’Neill, a state supreme court justice, said he was “disappointed by this national feeding frenzy about sexual indiscretions decades ago” and was making a preemptive strike. To spare his political rivals conducting opposition research, O’Neill said in a Facebook post that he had been “sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females.”
The post immediately earned scorn—even from O’Neill’s own Democratic Party.