BETSY MCCAUGHNEY: Sex Vigilantes Trash Due Process
New York’s Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is spearheading a McCarthyite purge of sexual harassers from Congress, throwing the nation’s capital into turmoil. What counts as sexual harassment? Good question. Men accused of boorish gestures or vulgar remarks face the same disgrace as outright rapists. And never mind if the accusations lack proof and the accusers remain anonymous.
Consider the charges dredged up again this week against President Trump. You heard them last year when he was campaigning for president. One accuser, Jessica Leeds, said that more than 30 years ago Trump groped her on a plane. But reporters were not able to confirm the flight, date or even year the incident was supposed to have occurred and couldn’t track down one witness to support her story.
The same was true with the other accusers. No facts.
No wonder the public dismissed the claims and elected Trump.
Monday, Leeds and two other accusers reiterated their old, unsubstantiated charges at a press conference. In response, six Democratic senators, including Gillibrand, are calling for Trump to step down from the presidency. It’s as if the #MeToo movement lessens the standard of proof and makes due process unnecessary.
That’s what’s happening in Congress. Take the anonymous former campaign worker who’s accusing Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., of touching her thigh twice, making her feel uncomfortable. Kihuen denies it, but House minority leader Nancy Pelosi commends the woman for coming forward (anonymously?) and demands that he resign.
What about Kihuen’s right to a fair hearing and the presumption of innocence? Pelosi and the sex vigilantes are all too ready to toss due process in the wastebasket.
Gillibrand conceded Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., was entitled to a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, but last week, she was out front bullying him into resigning. That’s like saying the accused is entitled to a fair trial, but let’s execute him first.
Same thing happened to John Conyers, D-Mich., who insisted on his own innocence and at first rejected calls to resign. Ultimately, he was forced out on Dec. 5.
Franken’s alleged to have forcibly kissed a fellow actor, and touched several women inappropriately during photo-ops. One accuser says when “we posed for the shot he immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice.” That’s it?
Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, is accused of bantering that he had “wet dreams” about a female staff member, who says she was fired for complaining about it. Farentholdt denies it. Yet Republican Mia Love, R-Utah, striving to keep up with sex bully Gillibrand, is calling on Farenthold to step down immediately, without a House Ethics Committee hearing.
Then there’s Rep. Trent Franks, R-Texas. Distressed that he and his wife can’t conceive, he asked two office aides to bear his child as a surrogate, offering one of them $5 million. Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan, not to be outdone by the sex vigilantes on the left, demanded Franks resign for his blundering behavior.
A fair penalty? Since the Civil War, only two members of Congress have been expelled, both for multiple felonies like bribery and tax evasion. Even New York Congressman Charlie Rangel, found guilty of 11 counts of violating congressional ethics rules in 2010, was only censured, not asked to resign.
Only once did Congress threaten a member with expulsion for sexual misconduct. In 1995, the Senate ethics committee voted to expel Senator Bob Packwood, R-Ore., after reviewing 10,145 pages of evidence, of “habitual pattern of aggressive, blatantly sexual advances” and destruction of evidence. They had the goods on him.
Sexual harassment holds women back. Good riddance to it. But in the zeal to right that wrong and to preen as defenders of women, politicians are trampling American values — due process, the presumption of innocence and enacting penalties that fit the crimes. These are too precious to lose.
Betsy McCaughey is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a former lieutenant governor of New York State.