As if Donald Trump didn’t have enough legal problems and bad juju, now he has another headache to deal with: a lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in New York accusing him (along with billionaire Jeffrey Epstein) of raping a 13 year old girl in 1994 at a party at Epstein’s place. The allegations are quite lurid, and reek of similar underage-sex-slavery charges made against Epstein. The lawsuit itself is not that likely to go very far; it appears to be a rehash of a suit previously dismissed in California. The statute of limitations has long since run out, requiring the “Jane Doe” plaintiff to offer creative arguments for why she should be able to bring this up now.
That said, there’s no statute of limitations in politics. Is there anything to this? We know, on the one hand, that nasty truths come out about political figures every campaign season. As a thrice-married admitted adulterer, Trump’s history doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in this area, from bragging about bedding married women to his comments to Howard Stern about watching Paris Hilton’s sex tape to his weird habit of commenting on the sex appeal of his own daughter to embracing convicted rapist Mike Tyson to defending Bill Clinton himself in his sex scandals in the 1990s, just to pick a few examples. We know, on the other hand, that bogus sex scandals follow just about everyone who makes it to the national level in politics. Offhand, I believe Mitt Romney may have been the only major party nominee the past 25 years who never had anybody in the press try to shop a sex scandal story (real or bogus) about him. Voters mostly gave the benefit of the doubt to Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio when flimsy sex stories were run against them in the primaries. Trump’s great wealth and messy public personal life make him a big target for this sort of thing. Sometimes, we have to just look at the facts we have and use our judgment.
Trump’s statement at the time about the original lawsuit was a blanket denial, which extended as far as questioning whether the plaintiff even existed: “The allegations are not only categorically false, but disgusting at the highest level and clearly framed to solicit media attention or, perhaps, are simply politically motivated. There is absolutely no merit to these allegations. Period.” In the absence of credible evidence to the contrary, we should believe him. The passage of a long period of time, the emergence of the suit only when Trump is engaged in a high-profile political campaign, and the apparent lack of corroboration beyond the accuser’s word, all cut against believing the charge.
But it’s not at all improbable to think Epstein may have had sex with a 13 year old at one of his parties, maybe forcibly – his record in this regard is long and tawdry, and has been justly cited for a long time by Republicans as a reason why Bill Clinton should have known to steer clear of Epstein’s “Lolita Express,” which he reportedly flew on some 26 times. The media shouldn’t grill Trump on this sort of thing unless they’re prepared to do the same to Bill Clinton. But Trump’s ties to Epstein are deep and nasty enough to (at a minimum) disable this line of attack on the Clintons – including Epstein pleading the Fifth Amendment to the question, “Have you ever socialized with Donald Trump in the presence of females under the age of 18?” Trump himself once told New York Magazine:
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
In other words, without any sort of supporting evidence, we should not put much stock in the sensational and belated claim of Trump himself participating in the rape of a young teenager. But it’s not so easy to dismiss the same charge as it applies to Jeffrey Epstein – or the significant possibility that Trump, like Clinton, may have been closer to Epstein’s now-infamous sexual abuses than he lets on.