WASHINGTON — There’s a lot to turn your stomach when mulling Senator Al Franken’s lewd treatment of radio host Leeann Tweeden during a 2006 trip abroad.
But one person who might have been expected to stay silent on the issue is the guy who at least 16 women have accused of sexually inappropriate behavior.
President Trump, who revels in pushing boundaries and smashing norms, weighed in Thursday evening with two tweets disparaging Franken for his boorish behavior. By doing so, the president drew attention to his own misbehavior and, according to critics, made a mockery of more credible efforts to improve the environment for women.
“It’s both profoundly hypocritical and ironic what he’s saying — given the conduct that he himself has discussed is remarkably similar,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “He has said he forcibly kissed women, that he could do what he wanted with them. I’m sure the irony is lost on him.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended the president Friday, saying that the accusations against Trump were already litigated during the presidential campaign, and therefore have been put to rest.
“We addressed that then,” Sanders said. “The American people, I think, spoke loud and clear when they elected this president.”
She also noted that Trump has denied the allegations he faces, unlike Franken, who issued an apology.
“Senator Franken has admitted wrongdoing and the president hasn’t,” Sanders said. “I think that’s a very clear distinction.”
But women’s rights advocates said Trump’s own past means he lacks credibility as a messenger on sexual abuse, and highlights the opposite message: That men can be aggressive toward women and pay little or no price for their behavior.
“It makes a certain subset of women feel really, really badly about how they feel when they’re attacked,” said Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women.
“What is the confounding thing is that people support him,” she said. “The silver lining is that we’re having this discussion and that women are now empowered to speak out.”
Trump, during the 2016 presidential campaign, was accused of making unwanted sexual advances repeatedly through his career.
The accusers included a woman who said Trump sexually assaulted her during a private tour of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, in his daughter Ivanka’s bedroom (Ivanka wasn’t there); a woman who said Trump tried to put his hand up her skirt when she sat next to him on an airplane; a woman who said Trump put his hand up her skirt in a Manhattan nightclub; and a woman who said Trump stuck his head up women’s skirts.
Trump denied the allegations and said he would sue the women for defamation, though he has not done so. Some of the women filed a civil lawsuit against him, and a judge is set to determine whether it will go forward this year.
In addition, about a month before he was elected, a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape emerged in which Trump could be heard on a hot microphone talking about mistreating women.
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” said Trump. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
Trump then became more graphic, adding: “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
The tape elicited a rare mea culpa from Trump. “I was wrong and I apologize,” Trump said, and then pivoted back to attacking opponent Hillary Clinton and her husband, Bill Clinton, who was also accused by multiple women of unwanted, aggressive sexual behavior.
Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, has been accused of trying to kiss and grope Tweeden on a 2006 USO tour in Kuwait, two years before he was elected a senator. He also used Tweeden’s phone to have a photo taken of him reaching for her breasts while she was sleeping.
Trump, like many Americans, reacted to the photo.
“The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?” Trump mused to his 42.9 million Twitter followers.
“And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women.”
Trump fired off his tweet hours after the Franken allegations were made public, but waited two days before personally weighing in on the alleged sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, the Republican running for a Senate seat from Alabama. Moore, 70, has been accused of making sexual advances toward teenage girls, including a 14-year-old, when he was in his 30s.
The Moore allegations surfaced while Trump was on a trip through Asia. When he did address the reports, Trump said: “I’m dealing with the folks over here. So I haven’t devoted, I haven’t been able to devote very much time to it.”
The White House issued a statement the day after the allegations surfaced saying that Trump believes Moore should step aside if the allegations against him are true.
“For him to speak out against Franken and not against Moore, that seems like standard operating practice for him,” said Van Pelt, the NOW president.
The difference in response is the kind of tribalism that Trump pushes in American politics, she said. Franken, the Democrat, is worthy of attack. Moore, the Republican, will be more protected.
She described it as: “Men protecting men, that’s really big.”