Hours after Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) acknowledged his inappropriate behavior toward radio host Leeann Tweeden, President Trump added his thoughts.
The “Lesley Stahl tape” is a reference to a 1995 New York magazine article in which Franken, then a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” is described as advocating a joke about raping the CBS journalist.
The allegations against Franken landed at a particularly fraught moment, one in which claims of sexual harassment and assault are increasingly common — and increasingly acknowledged as legitimate. Tweeden’s story emerged in post-Harvey-Weinstein America, just as the Senate race in Alabama has been roiled by more serious allegations against Republican candidate Roy Moore, including by two women who were under the age of 18 at the time that they say Moore touched them inappropriately.
Trump, though, has been quiet about the allegations against Moore. Through his press secretary, the president has said that the allegations against Moore are “troubling” and that, if proven to be true, he should leave the Senate race. Asked on Thursday how the allegations might be proven to be true, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that it “should be determined possibly by a court of law” — which, of course, won’t happen by next month’s election. She left the final judgment to “the people of Alabama . . . not the president, whether they want Roy Moore to support them in the Senate.”
Trump offered no tweets about Moore after the allegations emerged. Before The Post revealed the first of the stories involving Moore, Trump tweeted his congratulations to the candidate, saying that he “sounds like a really great guy.”
The president has also been the target of allegations about inappropriate behavior that emerged last year during the presidential race. The Weinstein revelations marked a tipping point that led a number of the president’s accusers to wonder how Trump had managed to avoid similar scrutiny.
More than a dozen women have come forward with stories describing unwanted touching or kissing by Trump. Trump’s response to those allegations has been consistent: The claims are untrue or have been “disproved” (which is not true).
Trump denied the allegations regularly during the campaign.
All of those comments were before Election Day last year. As we noted last month, television news coverage moved on from the allegations against Trump to the WikiLeaks documents and the letter from FBI Director James B. Comey.
The White House has addressed the allegations since Trump was inaugurated. At a news conference last month, Trump again dismissed the charges out-of-hand.
“All I can say is it’s totally fake news,” he said. “It’s just fake. It’s fake. It’s made-up stuff, and it’s disgraceful what happens. But that happens in the world of politics.”
A few weeks later, Sanders was asked if “the official White House position” was that all of the women alleging inappropriate behavior were lying.
“Yeah, we’ve been clear on that from the beginning,” Sanders said, “and the president’s spoken on it.”
There were other allegations that Trump preferred to talk about during 2016: those against Bill Clinton. In the wake of the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump described groping women without their consent, Trump and his campaign began to focus on Clinton’s behavior. Before the second presidential debate, Trump invited three women who said they’d been assaulted by Clinton or had a relationship with him to join him for a news conference.
He tweeted repeatedly about Clinton, including, at one point, retweeting Juanita Broaddrick who has accused Clinton of raping her (and who participated in the news conference).
It’s worth noting that this was a dramatic shift from how Trump spoke about the allegations against Clinton during the late 1990s.
ABC News reported on a 1998 exchange between Trump and Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. Trump called the accusers against Clinton “a terrible group of people,” and said that he didn’t “necessarily agree with his victims, his victims are terrible.” Clinton, Trump said, “is really a victim himself. But he put himself in that position.”
“The whole group, Paula Jones, Lewinsky, it’s just a really unattractive group,” Trump said. “I’m not just talking about physical.” But, asked if it would be better if they were all supermodels, Trump said, “I think at least it would be more pleasant to watch.”
That, of course, was before attacking Clinton was politically useful for him. In a speech in Ambridge, Pa. on Oct. 10, 2016, Trump excoriated Bill and Hillary Clinton on the subject.
“The hypocrisy of the media and our politicians is hard to believe,” he said. “They condemn my words, but they ignore and defend the — and this is the way it is — the reprehensible actions of Hillary and Bill Clinton that have destroyed and hurt so many lives.”
Two days later, the New York Times reported the first allegations against Trump.