In a front-page article in May 2016, the New York Times reported allegations that Donald Trump had a history of making unwanted sexual contact with women.
Jill Harth, a former beauty pageant promoter, accused Trump of “groping me under the table” during a dinner in the 1990s. Temple Taggart, a 1997 Miss USA contestant, claimed that Trump twice kissed her on the lips without consent.
Mark Halperin, co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics at the time of the article's publication, said the allegations against Trump were not terribly serious.
“If that's the best they got on these issues and Donald Trump, Donald Trump should be celebrating that story,” Halperin said on MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” where he now appears regularly as a senior political analyst for NBC News. “There's some troubling things in the piece, but there's nothing illegal, there's nothing even kind of, like, beyond boorish or politically incorrect, which is built into the Donald Trump brand. So, if that's the best they have in this score, Donald Trump can celebrate this story, politically.”
Halperin was right about one thing: Trump's alleged misconduct did not hurt him, politically — not enough to prevent him from winning the White House, anyway, even after The Washington Post published a video, five months later, in which Trump could be heard boasting in 2005 about the very behavior claimed by Harth and Taggart.
But Halperin's assertion that there was “nothing illegal” about Trump's alleged groping and kissing was wrong, and such displays of dismissiveness could work against him now, as he faces his own allegations of sexual harassment.
Five women have told CNN that Halperin sexually harassed them in the 1990s and 2000s, when he was the political director at ABC News. Here's CNN reporter Oliver Darcy's summary of the allegations:
The stories of harassment shared with CNN range in nature from propositioning employees for sex to kissing and grabbing one's breasts against her will. Three of the women who spoke to CNN described Halperin as, without consent, pressing an erection against their bodies while he was clothed. Halperin denies grabbing a woman's breasts and pressing his genitals against the three women.
Halperin did acknowledge some wrongdoing, however.
“During this period, I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me,” he said in a statement. “I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain. For that, I am deeply sorry, and I apologize. Under the circumstances, I'm going to take a step back from my day-to-day work, while I properly deal with this situation.”
“We find the story and the allegations very troubling,” MSNBC added in a statement. “Mark Halperin is leaving his role as a contributor, until the questions around his past conduct are fully understood.”
When the Times reported earlier this month on alleged sexual harassment by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, Halperin retweeted a strong condemnation by “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski.
At other times, Halperin has seemed to take a gentler tone toward prominent men accused of sexual harassment. In July 2016, he landed the first interview with Trump after Fox News cut ties with its longtime chairman, Roger Ailes.
“What do you think about what happened to your friend, Roger Ailes?” Halperin asked on his Showtime program, “The Circus.” Trump's response — “I think it's so sad; he's such a great guy” — was widely covered at the time, but Halperin's framing of the situation is also notable, in retrospect. He presented Ailes's fall as something that “happened to” him, as opposed to something Ailes brought on himself by mistreating women.
When Trump defended Bill O'Reilly against sexual harassment allegations in April, Halperin characterized the president's move as strategically unwise, without passing judgment on the substance of the claims against O'Reilly.
“Doing what he did yesterday, in commenting on Bill O'Reilly — to reporters, in the Oval Office, right before his statement on Syria — is not normal for a president,” Halperin said on “Morning Joe.” “It creates a huge distraction, gets tons of coverage. And yesterday should have been about projecting strength, as he did, on Syria. But it's pure Trump and classic Trump for him to then also be willing to address Bill O'Reilly. There's no reason for him to address it. None.”
Missing in Halperin's take was some acknowledgment that O'Reilly's alleged behavior is unacceptable — and that Trump, if he was going to speak up, ought to have said so.
As Halperin works on damage control, previous missed opportunities to take a firm stand against sexual harassment are a potential liability.