Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and author of the book, “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
During a week in which the nation’s biggest news story is the arrest of the shady financier and pal of President Trump Jeffrey Epstein on charges of operating a sex trafficking ring in which he abused underage girls, (Epstein has pleaded not guilty), Trump is sending quite a message.
Let’s recall, first, what Trump told New York magazine in 2002. “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it – Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
Trump, too, enjoys a social life. At the same time Epstein’s arrest was dominating headlines, the President invited Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, to a Treasury Department dinner, and sat him in a seat of honor, at the President’s own table. Kraft was recently charged with soliciting a woman in connection with prostitution while visiting a Florida massage parlor. Kraft has pleaded not guilty.
Kraft’s case is mild compared with what other Trump cronies have done. But with that dinner invitation on that particular night, Trump signaled loud and clear he doesn’t mind being around an accused sex criminal.
Trump’s labor secretary, Alex Acosta, is in trouble in Florida for his role in helping Epstein avoid accountability – Acosta, then a prosecutor, gave Epstein a lenient plea deal that was kept secret from his victims. A federal judge found that Acosta and his team broke the law, but that hasn’t meant any consequences for Acosta in his current job thus far.
These are just the latest in a string of shady characters – accused predators, predator-enablers and misogynists – embraced by the President. The dinner Kraft attended was a formal meeting with the Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, a 39-year-old leader with two wives who rules over a wealthy nation that is a human rights nightmare. Migrant workers in Qatar are treated like slaves, homosexuality there is punishable by prison or even death, and women are second-class citizens, having fewer rights than men in everything from citizenship to marriage, to child custody, to divorce and physical safety.
Here in the United States, Trump backed a candidate for United States Senate, Roy Moore, who was accused of sexually preying on teenage girls. Moore has denied these allegations. Andrew Puzder, who was the President’s first choice for labor secretary, didn’t take the job after allegations of domestic abuse leveled by his ex-wife in the 1980s – and later withdrawn – came to light. Puzder has denied the allegations.
White House aide Rob Porter resigned in disgrace after both of his ex-wives came forward to say he abused them “He threw me down on the bed and punched me in the face,” one told The Intercept. Porter denied the allegations.
Steve Bannon, who ran Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, faced charges of misdemeanor domestic violence and battery against his wife in 1996. He denied these allegations and the charges were ultimately dismissed. The couple are now divorced. He was later elevated to a seat on Trump’s National Security Council.
David Sorensen, a speechwriter and aide to Stephen Miller, was also accused of domestic abuse, including running his then-wife’s foot over with a car and burning her with a cigarette, according to the Washington Post. He denies the accusations and was never charged.
Trump loves to brag about his law-and-order bona fides, sounding the alarm about allegedly dangerous immigrants in the United States. But certain men – like him, a bunch of his friends, and their enablers – are a category of accused criminals and miscreants he doesn’t seem to mind.
Remember that Trump himself stands accused of a long list of sexual misdeeds, from barging into the dressing rooms of teenage beauty contestants to groping a woman on an airplane, to a credible accusation of rape made less than a month ago, to bragging about grabbing women by the genitals.
In this last case, Trump brushed off the countless rebukes by saying it was “locker room talk,” before suggesting that the tape might be fake, according to The New York Times.
His own ex-wife accused him of raping her (though she later said she didn’t mean “rape” in a legal sense). He denies all of these things.
And he has a socialized with Epstein in the past, though a lawyer for the Trump Organization denied the two had a social relationship.
The last few years have been a reckoning for powerful but sexually abusive men. Again and again, we ask how they managed to evade justice and do wrong for so long. Jeffrey Epstein is one of them. Another one sits in the Oval Office.