Back in 2005, Donald Trump gave Billy Bush some sage counsel about sexual assault: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
“Anything,” Trump elaborated, meant “just start kissing” whatever beautiful woman you come across. It meant, should a married woman send a special spark from the tips of your short, stubby fingers through your entire body, you can “move on her like a bitch.” It meant “grab ’em by the pussy.”
A recording of this conversation was published by the Washington Post on Friday. The fallout was, to borrow one of Trump’s favorite adjectives, huge. Here was compelling evidence that Trump capitalized on his celebrity to engage in intimate, sexual contact with women without their consent. (Though Trump, of course, refuted it.) A person could be forgiven for thinking the tape revealed something about Trump that had never been revealed before.
Except all of that information had been revealed before: By women.
Since the early 1990s, multiple women have accused Trump of sexual harassment and misconduct. His first wife accused him of rape. In May, the New York Times published a barn burner of a feature based on interviews with over 50 women who attested to Trump’s history of aggressive sexual come-ons along with his relentless ruminations on the bodies of, it seems, every woman he ever saw. Temple Taggart, who at age 21 was Miss Utah, told the Times that Trump “kissed me directly on the lips. I thought, ‘Oh my God, gross’… I think there were a few other girls that he kissed on the mouth.”
And yet, even as Trump edged out every other Republican hopeful to secure the GOP nomination for president, these allegations did little to derail his rise. It is only now, after this tape — the tape in which Trump is caught confessing to what women have accused him of doing for decades — that considerable attention is being paid to the idea of Trump as a sexual predator.
Sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump are not new. That he speaks about women in a repulsive manner is not a revelation to anyone to has listened to anything he’s said over the course of his public life. Women, in Trump’s parlance, are to be graded on a hotness scale of 1–10. His elder daughter? A piece of ass he’d love to date, if only he weren’t her father. Women who are found wanting are pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals.
The only thing that’s new is the tape. What’s new is one hot mic recording that captures Trump articulating exactly what women have been accusing him of doing for decades.
The outcry: “Can you believe it?!”
Well, we could have believed it this entire time. If we believed women.
ACosby, like Trump, has been accused by a multitude of women of varying degrees of sexual misconduct. Cosby, like Trump, has phenomenal influence, wealth, fame, and power. Cosby, like Trump, allegedly used that advantage to take advantage, preying on younger women who feared for their safety and professional futures if they came forward with their accusations. Cosby, like Trump, smeared his accusers, dismissing them as liars hungry for the very things — fame, money — he already had.
Cosby, like Trump, attacked journalists who sought comment on these sexual assault allegations. (Trump, to a Times reporter asking about the two latest accusers to go public: “You are a disgusting human being.” Cosby, to the AP reporter who asked him about sexual assault allegations in 2014: “If you want to consider yourself to be serious, [this interview] will not appear anywhere.)
Cosby, like Trump, saw even his more steadfast supporters falter when his own words from 2005 were unearthed from the recent past. The explosive 2005 deposition, unsealed in July 2015, showed Cosby admitting on the record to getting drugs for young women he wanted to have sex with. It is only after the deposition comes out that Cosby is dropped by his agency; that the criminal investigation against him in the Andrea Constand case is reopened; that Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill sign a White House petition to revoke Cosby’s Presidential Medal of Freedom; that President Obama publicly comments on the allegations against Cosby; and that, on December 30, 2015, Cosby is charged with sexual assault.
Why is it that we are so unwilling to believe women who accuse men of sexual assault? Why are we so quick to paint them as scheming, greedy, liars? Why, when we know that for a woman who goes public with a rape allegation, there is very, very little to gain — the cost of pursuing legal action is likely to far outweigh whatever settlement the accuser is highly unlikely to even receive — and a tremendous amount (her privacy, professional reputation, personal relationships, financial and emotional resources) to lose? Why, when the accuser is the person in this equation with the least incentive to lie? Why are we always waiting for something like the Trump tape?
TWhen Jill Harth met Donald Trump, she thought it was a career highlight. She, along with her business partner (with whom she was in a romantic relationship) recruited Trump to back their American Dream Festival, which included a Calendar Girl pin-up competition. Trump agreed, becoming a 50 percent partner. But he also, according to Harth, abruptly expressed sexual interest in her, asking her uncomfortable questions about her relationship status. At a business dinner the following night, Harth’s lawsuit would later allege, Trump “repeatedly put his hands on [her] thighs and violated [her] ‘physical and mental integrity’ by attempting to touch [her] intimate private parts.” He went on to make “repeated personal ‘sexual’ demands” of Harth, saying he wanted her to be a “sex object and slave.”
After a mandatory business meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Harth claims Trump “forcibly removed [her] to a bedroom” which belonged to his daughter Ivanka. There, he subjected Harth to “unwanted sexual advances, which included touching of [her] private parts in an act constituting attempted ‘rape.’” As Harth tried to leave, “Trump again became sexually abusive by intimately touching” her and “proclaim[ing] love,” at which point Harth immediately became ill and “vomited profusely.”
She feared “class-based reprisal and retaliation, including violence.” Harth’s lawsuit details a year of more unwanted sexual innuendo and conduct. In November of that year — 1993 —Harth’s lawsuit alleges, Trump demanded Harth provide him “access to a 17-year-old contestant from Czechoslavakia.” The lawsuit also alleges that Trump “sexually accosted” a guest of the American Dream Festival by sneaking into her room before dawn. She awoke to find Trump in her bed. “A learing (sic), groping Trump replied, ‘You said you don’t sleep with men on the first date. Now it’s the second date and here I am!’”
Harth sued Trump in 1997, accusing him of sexual harassment, groping, and attempted rape. (She ultimately dropped her suit after Trump settled another lawsuit from her partner, who said Trump broke his American Dream Festival contract.) Harth told The Guardian she had hoped to put the experience behind her, even as Trump geared up his run for president. “Honestly, it was painful for me to have to do it again. It was stressful, it gave me anxiety, it definitely wounded my marriage.” But after the Times story in May, which included her story, Harth claims Trump’s campaign called her and pressured her to “say it never happened and that I made it up.”
What pushed Harth over the edge was that Trump was describing her case as “meritless.” She was also enraged by an interview Ivanka Trump gave in which she said her father is “not a groper.” One of Trump’s advisers, Roger Stone, said of Harth’s allegations, “Sure sounds like bullshit to me.” Trump’s special counsel, told the Guardian that Harth had “massive credibility issues.”
This week, an anonymous Jane Doe who filed a federal lawsuit alleging Trump raped her when she was 13 years old was told by a judge that her hearing would be scheduled for December 16 — after the presidential election. She filed her lawsuit in June; she claims that Trump and Jeffrey Epstein — now a registered sex offender who, in 2008, was convicted of soliciting an underage girl for sex and sentenced to 18 months in prison —raped her at several parties during the summer of 1994. She alleges she was “enticed by promises of money and a modeling career” to attend the parties, held at Epstein’s New York City residence, and that Trump not only knew she was 13 years old at the time but had known her for seven years. (The stomach-churning details of the assaults are described in her lawsuit and can be found here.)
Also this week, two more women came forward in the Times to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct and People reporter Natasha Stoynoff published her account of being grabbed, kissed, and hit on by Trump during an interview in December 2005. While showing Stoynoff around his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump brought Stoynoff into a room alone, shut the door behind her, and, Stoynoff writes, “within seconds he was pushing me against the wall and forcing his tongue down my throat.” As Stoynoff tried to set up for their interview, she wrote, Trump leaned over and said, “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you?” (A Trump spokesperson told People that the events Stoynoff describes “never happened.)
As she told the Times, Rachel Crooks was a 22-year-old receptionist at a real estate investment and development company in Trump Tower when she met Trump outside an elevator at the building in 2005. She introduced herself; he kissed her face, then her mouth. Her then-boyfriend, Clint Hackenberg, told the Times, “I remember her saying, ‘I can’t do anything to this guy, because he’s Donald Trump.’”
Jessica Leeds, now 74, says she was assaulted by Trump in a first-class cabin on a flight to New York over 30 years ago. Less than an hour after takeoff, he “grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt.”
“His hands were everywhere,” she told the Times.
Like Harth, Leeds and Crooks were appalled by Trump’s assertion, during the second presidential debate, that he had never done any of the things he talked about in the 2005 tape. It was “locker room talk,” he insisted more than once. Leeds’ response? “I wanted to punch the screen.”
AA fleet of Republicans who have stuck by Trump since his birtherism-beginnings heard the 2005 tapes and decided: Ah yes, here is the line. We’ve found it. Since October 7, more than 50 former Trump supporters have ditched their party’s nominee. Arizona Sen. John “Not a war hero because he got captured” McCain finally jumped ship, declaring that “Donald Trump’s behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy.” New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte will be writing in Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, a real champion for women everywhere.
Like Constand’s civil suit against Cosby, Harth’s suit and Ivana’s allegations against Trump had little impact on Trump’s subsequent success. Weeks before Constand settled her case at the end of 2006, Cosby was inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor less than three years after Constand settled. Keep in mind that during 2005 and 2006, several women came forward, sharing their allegations with the press and joining Constand’s suit. Cosby was all set to have a stand-up film released on Netflix and to continue his comedy career well into his 70s, until Hannibal Buress’ joke-that-wasn’t-really-a-joke went viral.
The book that publicized Ivana’s rape allegations — Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump — was published in 1993. Her divorce from Trump made headlines the nation over and was a particular obsession of the New York tabloids. Four years later, Harth’s case garnered a bit of media coverage. The New York Daily News included some of the more graphic details, like that Trump told Harth he wanted to make her his “sex slave,” and described Harth’s plans to withdraw the $125 million suit less than a week after filing it. Still, The Apprentice premiered on NBC in 2004, where it and its celebrity spin-off have been running ever since. Trump maintained his ownership in the Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants until last year.
And on June 16, 2015, Trump glided down an escalator in his eponymous tower and into the presidential race.