Update, at 1:30 p.m. ET: After publication, Hillary Clinton released a statement through a spokesman. “I was shocked and appalled by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. The behavior described by women coming forward cannot be tolerated. Their courage and the support of others is critical in helping to stop this kind of behavior.” The statement made no mention of returning contributions from Weinstein.
On Tuesday morning, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the Democratic party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee, sat down for an interview on CNN’s “New Day.” Asked about the allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, the deposed Hollywood mogul, Kaine said: “Any leader should condemn this. These allegations are low-life behavior.”
By that definition, the last two Democratic presidents as well as the party’s 2016 nominee are not leaders.
Five days after the New York Times broke the news that Weinstein, the head of Miramax and a major Democratic donor, faced a series of allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women over a several-decade span, neither Bill or Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama has said a single word about the incidents.
What’s remarkable about that silence is that Weinstein isn’t, really, denying the allegations. In a long statement released in response to the Times story – in which he quoted Jay Z and said he would take a leave of absence to focus on fighting the NRA – Weinstein acknowledged: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.”
He’s already been fired – two days ago – by the board of directors of The Weinstein Company “in light of new information about misconduct by Harvey Weinstein that has emerged in the past few days.”
All of which makes the silence from Obama and the Clintons all the more stark – particularly because the trio’s ties to Weinstein run deep.
Not only was he a major bundler of campaign cash for Obama and Clinton but he’s also hosted a series of fundraisers at his various homes around the country over the years. In 2013, he hosted then-President Barack Obama for a fundraiser at his New York City apartment. In 2012, Obama did a fundraiser for his re-election bid at Weinstein’s home in Connecticut. During the 2016 campaign, Weinstein held a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign at his New York City apartment and another with fashion mogul Anna Wintour.
In 2013, first lady Michelle Obama praised Weinstein for his involvement in a student film symposium at the White House. “I want to start by thanking Harvey Weinstein for organizing this amazing day,” she said. “Harvey. This is possible because of Harvey. He is a wonderful human being, a good friend and just a powerhouse.”
Malia Obama, the couple’s daughter, interned at The Weinstein Company before starting college at Harvard this year.
Despite repeated inquiries from reporters in search of comment about the allegations against Weinstein, the offices of the Clintons and Obamas have remained mum. At an event at the University of California Davis promoting her book on Monday night, Clinton spoke for more than an hour but never mentioned Weinstein’s name.
Patti Solis Doyle, who was Clinton’s campaign manager in 2007, praised her former boss’s record, but said her silence so far has been disappointing.
“As long as I have known her she really has walked the walk and talked the talk on this,” Solis Doyle told CNN’s Poppy Harlow Tuesday. “For me she gave me the ability to bring my little, you know, 3-month-old baby to work when I needed to and have a crib in my office, you know, I know her heart is in the right place. So personally it is, it is disappointing she hasn’t come out and condemned Harvey Weinstein.”
What explains the notable silence from the Obamas and the Clintons?
Likely, friendship. As in, they are friends and, as such, want to give Weinstein every possible benefit of the doubt. So, rather than jump on Weinstein, they give him a few days of breathing room.
It’s also possible that Clinton and Obama believe that they are no longer active figures in day-to-day Democratic politics and, therefore, don’t need to respond to every single news story out there.
Both of these explanations fall short, however. On the friendship front, exercising situational ethics isn’t ethics at all. If your best friend commits a series of indefensible acts, you don’t get a pass from condemning that behavior because you have known each other for a long time. Friendship doesn’t excuse behavior like Weinstein has been exhibiting for years.
And, there’s no question about what’s happening here! Weinstein hasn’t denied it. And the allegations continue to pile up. The story isn’t getting better for him with time. It’s getting worse.
When it comes to the Clintons and Obama as less-than-active participants in Democratic politics, that overlooks the fact that they remain the three most recognizable and beloved leaders within the Democratic Party. It also conveniently leaves out Clinton’s much-repeated pledge during her recent book tour that “I am not done with politics because I literally believe that our country’s future is at stake.”
My guess is that the growing public pressure on the Clintons and Obama to say something – anything! – about Weinstein will force them to speak (or release a statement) sometime in the next 48 hours. But, the question remains: What the heck is taking them so long?