Content warning: This piece contains references to sexual assault.
Karen Johnson, E. Jean Carroll, Alva Johnson, Ninni Laaksonen, Jessica Drake, Karena Virginia, Cathy Heller, Summer Zervos, Kristin Anderson, Samantha Holvey, Lisa Boyne, Jessica Leeds, Rachel Crooks, Mindy McGillivray, Natasha Stoynoff, Jennifer Murphey, Mariah Billado, Tasha Dixon, Cassandra Searles, “Jane Doe,” Bridget Sullivan, Temple Taggart McDowell, Jill Harth, Ivana Trump.
Since 1992, more than 20 women have accused the 45th president of the United States of varying degrees of sexual misconduct. These accusations make headlines, but never seem to stick. In a flurry of tweets, a mangled sentence or two at a rally, or through the mouths of his spokespeople, Trump has managed to avoid investigation at every turn.
In light of this, two conclusions are obvious. First, the president is a serial abuser. Second, the U.S. legal system is not designed to protect survivors.
One of the most problematic aspects of executive power in this country is a decades long assumption that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel set precedent in 1973 when it accepted this argument during Richard Nixon’s impeachment trial. At the core of this logic is the belief that a criminal indictment process would hinder the president’s ability to carry out their duties.
This interpretation leaves impeachment as the only option for indicting a president’s criminal behavior. The House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power in December 2019, but there was no mention of the women accusing him of sexually abusive behavior.
The Republican-majority Senate’s choice to stonewall impeachment has implications beyond aid to Ukraine and subpoena violations. Mitch McConnell and other Republican Senators’ blind loyalty to Trump has allowed a man credibly accused of rape to remain in the Oval Office.
Scholars can debate the founders’ understanding of impeachment forever. We can fumble over the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors. But we can’t let survivors’ voices be overshadowed.
Since his inauguration, Trump and his administration have shown an uncanny ability to skate around checks and balances. When it comes to sexual misconduct, denial and ridicule are Trump’s strategies to clear his name in the court of public opinion.
In the last four years, it has seemed impossible to keep public attention fixed long enough to expose the severity of the allegations against Trump. He’s made it this far covering his tracks with tweets, lies and new controversies.
For a state or federal court to take up one of the cases, one of Trump’s accusers would have to initiate a formal legal complaint. Some have, but considering Trump’s $3.1 billion net worth, his position as commander-in-chief and his track record of evasion and lies, it’s no wonder this process is not one inclined toward justice.
In an administration plagued with chaos, the responsibility of exposing a president’s abuses falls on Congress. The obstruction and abuse of power cited in the House’s impeachment articles are not the end of this president’s depravity. Giving voice to those marginalized by presidential criminality is a privilege, and members of Congress should act like it.
Everything Trump has done since taking office is cruel and unusual enough to warrant removal, but this issue exists outside conversations of partisan politics and the scope of executive privilege. Unlike many of his abuses that hide behind the guise of policy, rape can’t be defended as politics.
Trump is the third president to be impeached for violating the U.S. Constitution, and he should be the first president tried in criminal court.