How Has Trump Avoided Weinstein's Fate?

Bidding Mueller adieu
David Shankbone/Gage Skidmore
Karen Tumulty, Mark Berman and Jenna Johnson

WASHINGTON — Almost a year after New Yorker Jessica Leeds and other women stepped forward with harrowing accounts of being sexually assaulted by a powerful man, another scandal with similar elements exploded. Only this time, the punishment was swift and devastating.

"It is hard to reconcile that Harvey Weinstein could be brought down with this, and President Donald Trump just continues to be the Teflon Don," said Leeds, who claims she was groped 30 years ago on a plane by the man whose presence she cannot escape now that he sits in the Oval Office.

In Florida, Melinda McGillivray, was having much the same reaction.

"What pisses me off is that the guy is president," McGillivray, who a year ago went public with allegations that Trump grabbed her at Mar-a-Lago in 2003 when she was 23. "It's that simple."

Leeds and McGillivray were among the 11 women who came forward in the 2016 campaign to accuse the then-Republican presidential candidate of unwanted touching or kissing. Trump called the charges "pure fiction" and referred to the women as "horrible, horrible liars."

Their claims did not stop the celebrity real estate titan on his climb to the most powerful office in the world.

Since then, numerous men in high places have been felled by charges of sexual misconduct. Most notable among them were Bill O'Reilly, the star Fox News anchor ousted less than a year after Roger Ailes, the network's co-founder; and Weinstein, once regarded as one of the most influential figures in the entertainment business.

A reminder that their allegations did not have the same effect

The Weinstein scandal, which has featured graphic accounts of assault from a string of celebrity accusers, has sparked a national debate about sexual harassment. Many women, inspired by a #MeToo campaign, have taken to social media to tell their own stories, and calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline have risen sharply.

But for Trump's accusers, the renewed debate offers a reminder that their allegations did not have the same effect.

Trump, unlike Weinstein, was able to deflect their claims — despite the disclosure of a video in which he was heard bragging about the kind of behavior some of the women had alleged. Trump has never followed through with his vow to sue his accusers or produce the "substantial evidence" he said would refute their claims.

So far, the allegations against the president have led to a single new lawsuit filed by a Trump accuser who argues that the president defamed her when he denied her allegations - a case that Trump's lawyer Marc Kasowitz called a "completely contrived, totally meritless lawsuit, which we expect to be summarily dismissed."

Kasowitz did not respond to questions from The Washington Post about the other women's claims and why Trump has not produced the evidence he said would to disprove them.

The frustrations of some Trump accusers surfaced publicly in the days after the New York Times revealed the allegations against Weinstein.

"My pain is everyday with bastard Trump as President," tweeted Jill Harth, who once worked with Trump on organizing beauty pageants and sued him in 1997, claiming he had repeatedly groped her breasts, tried to touch her genitals and kissed her against her will. "No one gets it unless it happens to them. NO one!"

Harth, who is now a makeup artist in New York and declined to be interviewed, also accused Trump of getting into bed, uninvited, with one of the 22-year-old contestants in the early 1990s, according to allegations detailed in the Boston Globe.

Cathy Heller, who last year told the Guardian that Trump forcibly kissed the side of her mouth during a brunch at Mar-a-Lago in 1997, expressed dismay that "nothing stuck" against him.

Heller said she wondered whether the fame of Weinstein's accusers — who include Oscar winners such as Gwyneth Paltrow — played a role in how their claims were received.

"A lot of them were actresses we've all heard of," said Heller, 64. "When it's a celebrity, it has more weight than just someone who he met at Mar-a-Lago or a beauty pageant contestant. They're not people we've heard of. And that, in our society, has much more weight because they're famous."

Heller said Weinstein's removal from his production company made her glad that "finally something was really done and a guy finally got his dues, his just desserts," she said. "We'll see about Trump. It's never too late."

McGillivray, now 37, said she was initially afraid to speak out, calling it "petrifying." But she said she felt driven by a patriotic duty - as well as a desire to do right by her teenage daughter.

"I wanted to be heard," said McGillivray, who lives in Palm Springs, Florida, not far from Mar-a-Lago, the president's private club.

Allegations about Trump's behavior toward women became an issue early in his candidacy and lingered for months, exploding in early October when The Washington Post published the 2005 "Access Hollywood" video in which he boasted in vulgar terms about grabbing women by the genitals and kissing them. The then-GOP nominee said the remarks "locker-room banter," adding: "I apologize if anyone was offended."

A majority of voters came to believe that Trump had committed the kind of behavior

That disclosure was followed by a string of accusations concerning incidents alleged to have occurred over several decades, starting in the early 1980s and continuing until at least 2007. The accusers included several women whose careers depended on Trump, in addition to women he encountered by happenstance.

Polls showed that a clear majority of voters came to believe that Trump had committed the kind of behavior described by his accusers.

A Washington Post poll three weeks before the election found that more than two-thirds of registered voters - including almost half of Republicans - thought that Trump probably had made unwanted sexual advances toward women.

But the specific allegations did little to budge an electorate that had become almost tribal in its divisions.

"Sexual abuse should not be a partisan issue, but it frequently is," said conservative commentator Amanda Carpenter. "That to me is maddening, just to watch women become fodder, to watch women become cannon fodder for these men. It's gut-wrenching."

After the allegations against Weinstein were made public, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel argued on CNN that Trump's alleged offenses were "not even comparable" to Weinstein's, adding that "to even make that comparison is disrespectful to the president."

McDaniel tried to turn the Weinstein case on the Democrats whose campaigns he had helped finance, tweeting on Oct. 7: "Whose side is Hillary Clinton on: Harvey Weinstein's or his victims?"

Unlike Weinstein, Trump responded to the accusations against him with vehement denials and fierce counterpunching. Although he apologized for his comments heard on the "Access Hollywood" tape, he attacked the credibility of the women making specific claims.

Trump deemed their accounts a "total fabrication," "totally and absolutely false" and "pure fiction." In the cases of two of the women, he urged the public to judge whether they were attractive enough for him to have assaulted them.

"Believe me: She would not be my first choice. That I can tell you," he said of Leeds.

Trump's pushback led one of his accusers, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality television show, "The Apprentice," to file a defamation lawsuit against him three days before he took the oath of office.

Zervos first appeared weeks before the election at a news conference with her attorney, Gloria Allred, and accused Trump of aggressively kissing her and groping her breasts during a 2007 meeting that took place when she was seeking a job at his company.

In court documents, Zervos' attorneys said Trump defamed her by labeling his accusers liars. They have sought to subpoena documents from Trump's campaign related to any of the women accusing him of inappropriate sexual contact. "Summer has really suffered, and she deserves to have her reputation restored," said Allred, who also represents other women who have accused Trump.

Asked this week about the case, Trump called it "totally fake news."

"It's just fake," he said during a Rose Garden news conference. "It's fake. It's made-up stuff, and it's disgraceful, what happens, but that happens in the - that happens in the world of politics."

Trump's lawyers are seeking to have the case dismissed.

The next brief is due on Oct. 31, and sometime after that, a judge in New York state, where the suit was filed, is expected to rule on whether the case will proceed.

History suggests that an ongoing court case could be perilous for a sitting president. The last deposition of one was in another sexual harassment case, when Bill Clinton was questioned for six hours in January 1998 by lawyers for former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. She claimed that Clinton, while governor in 1991, had exposed his genitals to her in a Little Rock hotel room.

Clinton ultimately paid Jones $800,000 to settle the case without admitting guilt, but during that deposition, he was asked about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and gave false statements that led to his impeachment.

The same factor that helped Clinton survive impeachment and remain in office helped Trump overcome the accusations of misconduct against him, said Elaine Kamarck, a former Clinton White House official who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"The fact is, there were bigger issues at play," she said. "Nobody expected him to be a good guy. People knew what kind of guy he was."

Leeds, now 75, said the furor over her decision to come forward last year in the New York Times lasted several months, "longer than I imagined." In the aftermath, she said, younger women approached her to thank her for her bravery. Many told her they have agonized over whether to do the same.

"I thought things were better in that area, with more women in the workplace," Leeds said. But she has come to the conclusion that the culture that fostered experiences like the one she claims to have had with Trump "is still very strong and very prevalent, and that was discouraging."

*The Washington Post's Scott Clement, Alice Crites and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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