The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The politics of allegations of sexual misconduct: Trump’s and Pelosi’s statements over time

How politicians react to such charges often appears to reflect who is being accused. Democrats are quick to jump on allegations about Republicans. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Leaders of both parties have voiced outrage about the ongoing allegations of sexual misconduct that have emerged over the past few weeks. Powerful men including Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and senatorial hopeful Roy Moore (R-Ala.) are among those most recently accused, but they are far from the first politicians to face similar allegations.

How politicians react to such charges often appears to reflect who is being accused. Democrats are quick to jump on allegations about Republicans — and vice versa. But the bets start to get hedged when someone in the same party falls under scrutiny.

Regular readers will remember that the Fact Checker has previously chronicled then-candidate Donald Trump’s flip-flop on whether or not women alleging sexual assault should be believed. The exchange between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)  and NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Nov. 26 caught our attention for similar reasons.

Let’s take a closer look at how Trump and Pelosi have reacted when members of their own party and of the opposing party are accused of sexual misconduct.

President Trump

President Trump frequently touts his “tremendous respect for women” and most recently, he told reporters that the allegations that have surfaced are “very good for our society” and “very, very good for women.” He added, “I’m very happy a lot of these things are coming out. I’m very happy it’s being exposed.” He has, however, taken differing and equally vocal stances on the actions of various men, including himself. Here are four examples.

Former president Clinton

Trump frequently referenced former president Bill Clinton’s indiscretions — both consensual and those alleged — throughout the 2016 campaign. As early as January, then-candidate Trump tweeted:

On Oct. 7, 2016, a 2005 video clip from “Access Hollywood” surfaced of Trump bragging in vulgar terms about kissing and groping women without their consent. He apologized in a statement for his words and then criticized the Clintons over how they handled sexual allegations made against Bill Clinton:

“Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims. We will discuss this more in the coming days.”
— Trump, in a Facebook video, on Oct. 7, 2016

After this, Trump’s attacks on Clinton increased dramatically. He signaled that he would bring up a variety of claims about Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior. On Oct. 9, 2016, he tweeted his “words were unfortunate — the Clintons’ actions were far worse.” That same day, an hour before the second presidential debate, Trump held a news conference featuring three of Bill Clinton’s accusers: Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick. Kathy Shelton, whose attacker in a rape case was represented by Hillary Clinton in the 1970s, was also included. Trump introduced the women saying:

“These four very courageous women have asked to be here, and it was our honor to help them.”

(The Fact Checker has previously detailed Jones’s and Broaddrick’s allegations against Clinton as well as outlined a broader list of the former president’s sexual behavior — from affairs to alleged assault. The Fact Checker also offered an in-depth look at Hillary Clinton’s role in the Shelton rape case. )

Following the debate, the Trump campaign stressed the importance of giving a voice to alleged sexual-assault victims, particularly those with allegations connected to Bill Clinton. At a rally on Oct. 10, 2016, Trump said:

“We brought four wonderful women to St. Louis and, honestly, it was both very beautiful and very sad. [Bill Clinton’s accusers] have been trying to get their feelings out for so long, and the media wouldn’t take it. One thing with me, the media takes it. Whatever. So they were able to get what they wanted to get out. To quote Juanita Broaddrick, ‘Hillary Clinton threatened me after Bill Clinton raped me.’ She’s been struggling to get the media to pay attention to her for many, many years. So last night, I decided we would expose the hypocrisy of the Clintons and the media and our politicians to the entire world.”
— Trump, campaign rally in Ambridge, Pa., Oct. 10, 2016

Himself, Donald Trump

On May 14, 2016, the New York Times published a story that outlined a series of encounters between Trump and women that revealed, “unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women, and unsettling workplace conduct.” The accounts spanned four decades and multiple spheres — including the worlds of real estate, pageants, modeling and his personal life. Trump responded to the article saying:


Trump also demanded that one of the reporters who wrote the article be fired.

Several months later, during the second presidential debate on Oct. 9, 2016, Anderson Cooper asked Trump point blank whether he had “actually kiss[ed] women without consent or grope[d] women without consent?” as Trump bragged in the 2005 video clip that had surfaced two days before. Trump asserted that “nobody has more respect for women” and Cooper pushed him, asking, “Have you ever done those things?” Trump responded: “No, I have not.”

After that exchange, several women came forward with accusations of improper conduct or sexual assault against the candidate. The Fact Checker recently detailed more than a dozen of these accusations. Trump, though, took a different stance than he had with Clinton’s accusers. At a campaign rally and on Twitter, Trump responded:

“These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false. … They’re pure fiction, and they’re outright lies. These events never, ever happened and the people said them meekly, fully understand. You take a look at these people, you study these people, and you’ll understand also. The claims are preposterous, ludicrous and defy truth, common sense and logic. We already have substantial evidence to dispute these lies, and it will be made public in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time very soon. …
Last night we hear that after 12 years — this took place 12 years ago, this story — a new claim that I made inappropriate advances during the interview to this writer [Natasha Stoynoff, reporting for People magazine] and I asked a very simple question: Why wasn’t it part of the story that appeared 12 years ago? … These people are horrible people. They’re horrible, horrible liars. And interestingly, it happens to appear 26 days before our very important election. Isn’t that amazing?”
— Trump, campaign rally in West Palm Beach, Fla., Oct. 13, 2016

A Nov. 25 report from the New York Times said Trump now questions the veracity of the 2005 video clip — despite his apology during the campaign. According to the Times: “He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, during a news conference on Nov. 27, denied that the president’s position on the authenticity of the tape had changed.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

On Nov. 16, a photo surfaced of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) appearing to fondle Los Angeles radio anchor and model Leeann Tweeden while on a USO tour in 2006 before he was elected to the Senate. During a news conference, Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her. Several other women have come forward saying Franken groped them during photo opportunities. Trump responded on Twitter:

“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps? ……And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Lesley Stahl tape?”
— Trump, on Twitter, Nov. 16, 2017

On Nov. 21, reporters asked the president whether Franken should resign. Trump responded, “I don’t know — look, I don’t want to speak for Al Franken. I don’t know what happened.” When asked about Conyers, Trump said, “I just heard about Conyers two minutes ago. As far as Franken is concerned, he’s going to have to speak for himself. I’d rather have him speak for himself.”

Roy Moore (R-Ala.), senatorial candidate from Alabama

On Nov. 9, The Washington Post reported that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat, initiated a sexual encounter with a woman when she was 14 and he was 32. In just over a week, several more women had come forward with similar stories, alleging questionable behavior or sexual assault by Moore. Despite calls for him to step down as the GOP candidate by the Republican leadership, Moore has resisted, saying he will stay in the race. Trump weighed in on Nov. 21:

Q: “Is Roy Moore, a child molester, better than a Democrat? He’s an accused –“
Trump: “Well, he denies it. Look, he denies it. I mean, if you look at what is really going on, and you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours, he totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also. You’re talking about, he said 40 years ago this did not happen. So, you know –”
Q “Do you believe Roy Moore’s denials? Do you believe him?”
Trump: “Well, he denies. I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial. And I do have to say, 40 years is a long time. He’s run eight races, and this has never comes up. So 40 years is a long time. The women are Trump voters; most of them are Trump voters. All you can do is, you have to do what you have to do. He totally denies it.”

The White House did not respond to our request for comment.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was the first female speaker of the House, a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton and a regular advocate for programs that support women and children. In recent weeks, she thanked women who are “stepping up and saying “#MeToo” and criticized longtime Democratic donor Harvey Weinstein, saying his “assaults on women & efforts to silence his victims violate every standard of acceptable behavior.” In 2014, she tweeted:

In 2011, she quickly called for an ethics investigation into the conduct of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) after he acknowledged that he had sent a lewd photo from his Twitter account and had “inappropriate” online relationships with a number of women. Pelosi was later one of the strongest voices urging him to step down. She again condemned his behavior when new allegations surfaced during his mayoral campaign.

However, Pelosi’s assessment of similar allegations hasn’t always been as clear. At times, she has pivoted away from strong stances against Democratic lawmakers who have been accused of sexual misconduct, equivocating or pointing to Republicans who have faced similar allegations. Here’s a list of four examples.

Former president Clinton

In early 1998, rumors were swirling about sexual contact between then-President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, who had served as an unpaid intern at the White House. The president’s allies argued Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr overstepped his authority by looking into an affair between the two. Lewinsky was in on-and-off conversations with the Starr’s office for an immunity agreement and Clinton’s statements were vague, to say the least. (Clinton and Lewinsky eventually admitted having an affair.) On Feb. 8, 1998, Pelosi went on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to discuss women’s reactions to the affair. When asked why she had been silent on the allegations, Pelosi responded:

“Well, I’d like to say that I think that the women of America are speaking out about what they think about this whole situation. And the women of America are just like other Americans, in that they value fairness, they value privacy and do not want to see a person with uncontrolled power, uncontrolled time, uncontrolled — unlimited money investigating the president of the United States.”

As the year went on, she fought against Clinton’s impeachment by urging her Republican colleagues to reject the “double standard” after then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was merely reprimanded after lying to the ethics committee about his personal life.

When then-candidate Trump ramped up his attacks on former president Clinton, Pelosi appeared on “Meet the Press.” On Oct. 9, 2016, ahead of the presidential debate, moderator Chuck Todd questioned if Pelosi thought it was “fair” that Trump brought up Bill Clinton’s past indiscretions during the campaign. Here’s her response:

“No, because you know why? Elections are about the future. They’re about the future. He’s talking about something, about Bill Clinton, he’s not on the ballot.”

Pelosi made a similar statement a week later on CNN’s State of the Union. When asked why there isn’t a double standard for allegations of sexual misconduct between Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, she said “there is a double standard, but Bill Clinton is not on the ballot.”

On Nov. 26, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Pelosi about her statement from 1998 on then-president Clinton, noting that many prominent Democrats have said  that, if the same allegations emerged today and he were still president, they would “call for [Clinton’s] resignation.” Todd asked if Pelosi thought this shift was part of a “generational change” and she responded:

“Well, I think it’s obviously a generational change. But let me just say the concern that we had then was that they were impeaching the president of the United States, and for something that had nothing to do with the performance of his duties, and trying to take him out for that reason. But let’s go forward. Let’s go forward.”

Todd pressed her, asking if she had been “putting politics over [her] personal disgust” and if that couldn’t be likened to Trump’s support for Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race. Pelosi pivoted away from Todd’s questions and deflected to President Trump’s conduct toward women:

REP. NANCY PELOSI: No, but we’re talking about a child molester. This is —
CHUCK TODD: Okay, but —
REP. NANCY PELOSI: We’re talking about a child molester.
CHUCK TODD: But President Clinton was accused of being a sexual predator.

CHUCK TODD: And of even rape at one point, by one accuser.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Why don’t we talk, instead, about how we go forward. Nobody is proud of President Clinton’s behavior at the time. But he was being impeached —

President Trump

During the “Meet the Press” interview ahead of the Oct. 9, 2016 debate, Pelosi played down the comments that Trump had made in the 2005 video clip, saying, “Issues that relate to the well being of women are more important than their locker room talk.”  But since Trump’s election, Pelosi has changed her tune. In addition to criticizing his policies on women’s issues, she regularly has referenced the allegations of sexual assault against the president as well as his comments on the 2005 video.

A month later, Pelosi critiqued the president’s response to allegations of sexual misconduct by former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly. In doing so, she again referenced Trump’s comments about women:

“We have been able to increase respect for women. In the campaign, I thought the president’s comments were very disrespectful of women and now he is defending some disrespectful behavior on the part of O’Reilly. It’s sickening.”
— Pelosi, in a news conference, April 6, 2017 

Most recently, on Nov. 26, Pelosi spoke to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Speaking about the outpouring of allegations of sexual assault, she said:

“So many women, and this is really important, I think, to note, because I’ve heard from so many women in the last few months, in fact, I heard, around the time of Anita Hill, so many women who’ve had a bad experience. And now they’re saying, “I had a bad experience, and now a person who possibly engaged in that activity is the president of the United States. I’m speaking out.” So I think, as your presenter said earlier …. you said Harvey didn’t evoke this, the election of President Trump evoked what happened to Harvey. And now everybody is served notice.”

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.)

On Nov. 21, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the longest-serving member of Congress, joined the ranks of members accused of sexual misconduct. Since BuzzFeed revealed Conyers had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint by a woman who refused his advances, at least three women have come forward with accusations of mistreatment and sexual harassment. At least one of them needed to speak anonymously as a result of nondisclosure agreement mandated by a settlement. On Nov. 24, Pelosi tweeted:

During an interview on “Meet the Press” on Nov. 26, Chuck Todd asked if Pelosi’s “zero tolerance” policy applied to Conyers. She responded by insisting on the need for “due process,” as the claim had not been reviewed by the ethics committee. At least one of the claims has already been reviewed and settled through the Congressional Office of Compliance’s complaint process. Pelosi said:

“Just because someone is accused—and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be—John Conyers is an icon in our country. He has done a great deal to protect women—Violence Against Women Act, which the left—right wing—is now quoting me as praising him for his work on that, and he did great work on that. But the fact is, as John reviews his case, which he knows, which I don’t, I believe he will do the right thing.”

Almost immediately, Pelosi faced criticism for her praise of Conyers’ career. Behind the scenes, however, she pushed for him to step down as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee — which happened hours after the interview aired. Pelosi commended this move, saying, “Zero tolerance means consequences,” noting she had asked for an ethics investigation. She continued saying she takes “any accusation of sexual harassment very seriously” and “no matter how great an individual’s legacy, it is not a license for harassment.”

Later in the same interview, Todd asked if she “believe[d] John Conyers’ accusers?” Pelosi responded, “I don’t know who they are. Do you? They have not really come forward.” After public backlash from her comments, Pelosi met with one of Conyers accusers, Melanie Sloan. She then issued a statement saying she believes Sloan’s account. Since this interview, Pelosi has also pushed for Conyers to step aside.

Update, Nov. 30: Pelosi called for Conyers to resign after “very credible” allegations of sexual harassment by multiple former aides surfaced. At a news conference she said, “Zero tolerance means consequences for everyone. No matter how great the legacy, it is no license to harass or discriminate.”

Former Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), who went on to become Mayor of San Diego

Allegations of sexual harassment surfaced against the former 10-term member of Congress, who cast himself as a champion of female veterans, just a year after he left Congress. In 2013, at least 13 women came forward with charges against Filner, who was then mayor of San Diego. Several of the allegations came from Filner’s time as the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs ,which overlaps with Pelosi’s time as speaker of the House. Pelosi declined to weigh in on Filner’s actions and whether or not he should step down even after he had admitted wrongdoing:

“What goes on in San Diego is up to the people of San Diego. I’m not here to make any judgments. My colleagues, who do represent San Diego, have made their statements on the subject. But that’s all I’ll say on that.”

Later, she asked reporters not refer to him as “her former colleague” despite the fact that they represented different parts of the same state for two decades. Two weeks later, under public pressure, Pelosi slammed Filner’s behavior and that of former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.):

“It is so disrespectful of women. And what’s really stunning about it is that they don’t even realize it. They don’t even have a clue. If they are clueless, get a clue. If they need therapy, get it in private.”

Pelosi’s office declined to comment.

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Keep tabs on Trump’s promises with our Trump Promise Tracker

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter

Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logo Washington Post Rating:
Lacks context
"The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?"
in a tweet
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logo Washington Post Rating:
Lacks context
"Roy Moore denies it. And, by the way, he gives a total denial."
in remarks to reporters at the White House
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Share the Facts
Washington Post rating logo Washington Post Rating:
Lacks context
“Just because someone is accused—and was it one accusation? Is it two? I think there has to be—John Conyers is an icon in our country."
In an interview on NBC’s "Meet the Press"
Sunday, November 26, 2017