During an interview with TODAY‘s Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan punted when asked about the official White House stance on President Trump’s sexual harassment accusers.
“Look, I don’t even know what all these accusations are,” Ryan said, when asked whether he agreed with the White House’s claim that all the women were liars. “I’m focused on fixing Congress. I’m focused on my job, where I work, making this institution safe. I want my daughter to be able to grow up in an economy, to go into work — public or private sector work — she’s not being harassed, she’s being empowered. That’s what I’m focused on, I’m not focused on this other stuff.”
“The White House position on the President’s accusers is that they are all liars. Is that your position as well?” @SavannahGuthrie asks @SpeakerRyan about Trump sexual misconduct accusers pic.twitter.com/PqwCjawyBr
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 20, 2017
Earlier in the interview, Ryan brushed off calls from three of Trump’s accusers for a congressional investigation into the allegations against the president. When asked whether he would support such an investigation, Ryan responded, “Well, as you know, the person in charge of that investigation–that committee, Trey Gowdy, has given a very articulate response, which is that, those are criminal matters that… Congress doesn’t do criminal investigations.”
Pressed on the fact that Congress does, in fact, conduct ethics investigations involving matters of sexual harassment, Ryan replied, “I would invite you to talk to the White House.” He added, “You know this very clearly, because it happened in your industry, in your studio — it’s happened here in Congress — but let’s take this moment for as serious as it is, and not make it some partisan thing.”
“President Trump has been accused as well. 3 of those accusers recently asked for a Congressional investigation. They want you… Would you support such an investigation?” @savannahguthrie asks @SpeakerRyan about Trump/sexual misconduct pic.twitter.com/77yRIfumxa
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 20, 2017
Ryan downplayed the allegations against Trump as “other stuff” on Wednesday, but the reality is much more troubling: as many as 19 women have accused the president of sexual misconduct or assault over the years, stemming back to the early 1980s. In some cases, the president himself confirmed the allegations, either during radio interviews or in leaked video footage, such as the infamous Access Hollywood tape.
The White House, as Guthrie noted during Wednesday’s interview, has maintained a hardline stance on the issue, officially stating during a press briefing in October that Trump’s 19 accusers are all “liars.”
“We have been clear on that from the beginning and the president has spoken on it,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at the time.
Trump has similarly blasted the accusations as “fake news.”
“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia — so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met,” he tweeted on December 12, following NBC host Megyn Kelly’s latest interviews with three of Trump’s accusers. “FAKE NEWS!”
Trump is one of many in Washington who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, harassment or assault in recent months; On December 7, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) announced he would resign his post over several accusations of sexual harassment and groping, some of which he has denied. And on Thursday, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) announced he would not seek re-election in 2018 following allegations of sexual harassment years earlier, which resurfaced again this month after it was revealed he had used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to pay out settlements to his accusers.
In the midst of the national #MeToo movement, several members of Congress — the majority of them women — have come forward in recent months to propose legislation making it easier for sexual misconduct claims against sitting legislators to be made public. In November, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill that would mandate further transparency in the reporting process, and would require legislators to pay for their own settlements.
Ryan has said in the past that he supports such legislation.
“We are having a watershed moment in this country. I think this is a defining moment in this country,” he said during and interview with Morning Edition‘s Steve Inskeep in November. “I think we’re all realizing that sexual harassment in America is absolutely pervasive and it’s got to go and we need to end it. And nowhere more is this important to set a standard and an example than elected officials. We should be held to a high standard.”