- Wayne Washington Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Led by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, five dozen Democratic congresswomen are calling for an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by President Donald Trump.
The total number of Democrats backing such an investigation has now reached 139 men and women and is climbing, Frankel told The Palm Beach Post by telephone Tuesday after the Democratic women’s press conference in Washington, D.C.
“No man or woman is above the law,” said Frankel, whose district includes Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach estate Trump has called his winter White House.
Members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, chaired by Frankel, wrote to the leaders of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to ask for an investigation into “the reports of sexual misconduct raised against President Trump, many of which he has denied. The American people deserve a full inquiry into the truth of these allegations.”
The chairman of that committee, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said he is forwarding the group’s letter to the U.S. Department of Justice because the allegations the group points to would constitute crimes and his committee does not prosecute crimes.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have roiled politics in recent months, forcing the resignations of a pair of Democrats, U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, and U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. And allegations of sexual misconduct colored a crucial U.S. Senate election Tuesday in Alabama, where Republican Roy Moore denied the allegations of multiple women who say he attempted to date them or have sex with them when they were teenagers.
Trump endorsed Moore and took to Twitter Tuesday morning to blast a Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has called for his resignation.
In the tweet, Trump called Gillibrand a “lightweight” and “a total flunky” who was once “begging” for campaign donations from him “and would do anything for them.”
Gillibrand did receive some campaign contributions from Trump, whom she said is now trying to silence her as she argues for his resignation.
“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office,” Gillibrand tweeted.
The president’s tweet about Gillibrand drew criticism from some, who saw it as sexist and sexually suggestive.
During Tuesday’s press conference, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-CA, called the president’s tweet about Gillibrand “grotesque.”
“It took my breath away,” Speier said. “It represents the conduct of a person who is ill-equipped to be the president of the United States.”
Frankel and the Democratic Women’s Working Group haven’t gone as far as Gillibrand in calling for the resignation of the president, but their letter — initially signed by 59 female members of Congress, according to Frankel, with male members later joining the effort — illustrates a determination on the part of some Democrats to turn the focus back to Trump now that Conyers and Franken have resigned.
“At least 17 women have publicly accused the President of sexual misconduct,” the Democratic Women’s Working Group wrote to the Oversight Committee. “We cannot ignore the multitude of women who have come forward with accusations.”
The group’s letter summarized some of the most lurid claims against Trump, all allegedly occurring before he was a candidate.
“Natasha Stoynoff recounted how the President pushed her against a wall and forced his tongue down her throat,” the group wrote. “Jill Harth described how the President attempted to get up her dress. Kristin Anderson detailed how the President touched her genitals through her underwear. Mariah Billado, Rachel Crooks, Tasha Dixon, Jessica Drake, Cathy Heller, Samantha Holvey, Ninni Laaksonen, Jessica Leeds, Temple Taggart McDowell, Minday McGillivray, Cassandra Searles, Bridget Sullivan, Karen Virginia, and Summer Zervoz also offered alarming accounts.”end optional trim here
Trump has said the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct are lying. He said during the campaign that he would sue them after the election, a pledge he has not yet kept.
Some supporters of the president argue that voters were aware of the allegations against Trump before the election and had heard him on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape where the former celebrity real estate mogul bragged about kissing women without their permission and grabbing them by their vagina.
Trump backers say that, despite the attention given to the allegations and “Access Hollywood” tape, Trump still won the election, indicating that voters did not view the allegations or Trump’s comments as disqualifying.
“The president tweets denials, and his press secretary comes out to say the matter has been litigated,” Frankel said Tuesday.
While more and more Democrats are calling for an investigation of allegations against Trump, the political realities of Washington continue to mute the impact of those calls.
Democrats don’t have a majority in either the House or the Senate, meaning it would be up to Republicans to initiate congressional investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct made against a president of their own party.
The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., has said he’d support such an investigation.
Gowdy, however, wrote Frankel Tuesday afternoon, telling her his committee will forward the Democratic Women’s Working Group letter to the Justice Department, which, he noted, does not have jurisdiction over violations of state law.
“This Committee, nor any other Committee of Congress, does not, and cannot, prosecute crimes,” Gowdy wrote. “Those alleging sexual assault or criminal sexual conduct deserve to be interviewed by law enforcement professionals, and charging decisions should be made by prosecutors based on the quantam and quality of the admissible and provable evidence.”
Frankel disputed Gowdy’s notion that the Oversight Committee does not investigate crimes, pointing to investigations it led during the Clinton administration.
“We’re not done trying to pursue this investigation,” Frankel told The Post, adding that she found it “interesting” that Gowdy “recognized the behavior as criminal in nature, him being a former prosecutor.”
Republican-led congressional committees are investigating whether Russia meddled in the election, but there have been no indications that Republicans will authorize probes into allegations of sexual misconduct by the president.
Initially, Democrats struggled to respond to the allegations against their own.
Eventually, Democrats pressured both Conyers and Franken to resign. Frankel was not among those leading that charge.
She said she “didn’t think it was necessary” to call for Conyers’ resignation because the Democratic leader in the House, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, called for an investigation and, later, for his resignation.
Adding her voice to that, she said, “really would have been piling on for political purposes.”
As for Franken, Frankel said she backed an ethics investigation, which the senator himself supported before announcing his intention to resign.
Before Franken and Conyers announced their resignations, some Democrats worried that they’d be accused of hypocrisy if they went after Trump on the sexual misconduct allegations. Now, with Conyers gone and Franken soon to follow, Democrats can be expected to try to paint Republicans as a party willing to countenance the sexual misconduct of its members.
“You have seen actions from the Democratic Party that we’re not running away from this,” said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Mich. “We are standing together and saying accountability goes all the way to the White House.”
In addition to the allegations against Trump and Moore, multiple media outlets have reported that U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against him with $84,000 in taxpayer money.
There were also reports that Conyers used taxpayer money to settle a suit brought by a woman who claimed the congressman repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward female staffers.
And The Post has reported that U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Delray Beach, said he was “outraged” that $220,000 in taxpayer money was used to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit involving him.
“At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made,” Hastings said in a statement sent to The Post.
The House Ethics Committee cleared Hastings of sexual harassment in 2014.
So far, no Republicans have joined the call for an investigation into the allegations against Trump, Frankel said.
“I think the Republicans are afraid of the president,” she said. “They don’t want him tweeting at them.”