What About the Sexual Harasser in the White House?

There’s now a long and growing list of well-known men who’ve recently seen their careers shortened or ended after accusations of sexual misconduct. And then there’s Donald Trump.

Garen Meguerian / Creative Commons

No fewer than 16 women have come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and assault against the president—a high number considering how vindictive and litigious the president is known to be. And yet none of it seems to have truly harmed him.

At least not yet.

According to a new Qunnipiac Poll, 70 percent of Americans believe that Trump should be investigated for the sexual harassment claims against him—but only one of his accusers has filed a lawsuit against him. After tweets and public statements during the campaign in which Trump called the claims against him “false allegations and outright lies,” Summer Zervos decided to take legal action, suing him for defamation.

Zervos’ lawyer, Gloria Allred, has served Trump with a subpoena, asking for “all documents concerning any accusations that were made during Donald J. Trump’s election campaign for president, that he subjected any woman to unwanted sexual touching and/or sexually inappropriate behavior.” This information could help make the case that so many have tried—and yet failed—to make stick: that Trump is a sexual predator who’s so far escaped justice.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s attorney is trying to get the case dismissed, or at least delayed. On Dec. 5, attorney Marc Kasowitz appeared in New York State Supreme Court, arguing before the judge that she has no jurisdiction over a sitting president. That’s an argument that many feel is flawed.

“That just seems wrong. Clinton v. Jones held that the president has no immunity for acts that occurred prior to taking office,” says Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley Law School, referring to the lawsuit brought against Bill Clinton when he was a sitting president. “There is no reason why that is different in state as compared to federal court.”

But even if her case does move forward, why is Zervos the only woman who’s actually gone to court against this president?

“Because who wants to be dragged into this?” says Melanie Sloan, a DC lawyer who is now senior advisor to the ethics non-profit American Oversight. “If these women file suit against Trump, they know their lives will be about nothing but this. It will be very unpleasant. He will be sending out nasty tweets and people will be showing up at their houses. This could make their lives miserable.”

At the press conference announcing her lawsuit against Trump, Zervos told reporters: “I want Mr. Trump to know that I will still be willing to dismiss my case against him immediately for no monetary compensation if he would simply retract his false statements about me and acknowledge that I told the truth about him.”

Trump is holding firm in his position that all the women accusing him of sexual misconduct are lying. His lawyers, and Zervos’, are awaiting a ruling in New York Supreme Court on whether the lawsuit against him can move forward.

“I think people, women, are frustrated that someone can engage in the kind of conduct he has and then be the president of the United States and represent us around the world,” says Sloan. “His treatment of women…it’s quite a contrast from Obama. But it’s not just that. He’s not installing women into positions of power. The judges he’s picking are almost all white males. The election of Donald Trump has pushed women back decades.”

“All of the revelations of sexual harassment by powerful men raise issues of accountability,” says Chemerinsky. “But it is especially true when it is about sexual harassment by the president of the United States. If he can do it and get away with it, what kind of message does that send to other men who want to treat women this way?”

Linda Burstyn is an Emmy award-winning journalist and television drama writer. 

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