Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

No, it’s not really worth parsing every detail of the multiple, apparently credible, charges of illegal sexual conduct by Donald Trump, made by a variety of women and covering a variety of incidents, all consistent with the behavior he bragged of on tape to Billy Bush. But his reaction – and especially the release of what the campaign said would be exonerating evidence – repays inspection.

Trump on the stump has now lurched into fantasy-land, arguing that the charges are a result of a vast conspiracy encompassing not only the Clinton campaign but all of the mass media, in the service of “international bankers” with whom Clinton is plotting to betray American sovereignty. It’s full-on Father Coughlin/Elders of Zion material, apparently courtesy of Steve Bannon. Today the plot enlarged to include Carlos Slim, the Mexican telephone multi-billionaire and part-owner of the New York Times.

But apparently lunatic raving alone, along with the campaign’s mechanical denials of each new charge as it comes in, its media servants’ suggestion that we should “question the timing,” empty threats of lawsuits, and of course Trump’s follow-up that his accusers weren’t hot enough to rate being groped by him,  weren’t doing the job, so this morning Mike Pence, after asserting that he believed his running mate without offering any argument for that belief, promised that the campaign would release evidence “frankly, within a matter of hours” to disprove the charges. Trump made the same promise later in the day.

When that alleged evidence appeared – in the Murdoch-owned New York Post, doubtless for lack of any even slightly respectable outlet willing to go with it– it didn’t pass the giggle test.

The “evidence” concerned the charge of Jessica Leeds that Trump had groped her – putting his hand up her skirt –  on a flight from Dallas to New York in 1980. Trump has denied even knowing her. The Trump campaign put forward an Englishman named Anthony Gilberthorpe, now 54, to say that he was on the same flight, sitting nearby, saw the whole transaction, remembers it with “photographic memory,” and observed Leeds flirting with Trump rather than Trump assaulting Leeds. Pretty convincing, right?

Yes, but.

  • If Gilberthorpe is now 54, he must have been 18 in 1980. I suppose it’s possible that an English eighteen-year-old was flying first class from Dallas to New York, but it’s not especially plausible, and he doesn’t seem to have provided any explanation.
  • Trump flatly denied that he’d ever met Leeds. So if Gilberthorpe is telling the truth, Trump isn’t. He also contradicts the narrative of Trump surrogates that the incident couldn’t have happened because Trump is and always has been too precious to fly commercial.
  • Gilberthorpe appears to be quite a piece of work, without much respect for the truth. (a) He has claimed, among other things, to have pimped underage male sex workers to prominent Tory politicians, with the knowledge of Margaret Thatcher (!). (b) He won a defamation suit and then had the verdict reversed on evidence that testimony on his behalf had been faked by a friend who was then a Member of Parliament. (c) He then turned on the friendly perjurer and ruined his life by setting him up to be videotaped in bed with a young call girl. (d) One of the issues in the libel suit was Gilberthorpe’s sexual orientation. In order to convince the world that he was straight, he arranged for the publication of an engagement notice about himself and Miss Leah Bergdorf-Hunt. However, it later emerged that he had invented not only the engagement, but Miss Bergdorf-Hunt herself. No such person ever existed.

So that’s the witness who is supposed to convince everyone that Jessica Leeds chose to expose herself and her family to the sort of abuse the Trump campaign and its alt-right buddies are so skilled at meting out, by making a completely false allegation. As I said, this doesn’t pass the giggle test, especially for anyone who has watched the video of Leeds with Anderson Cooper.

And that seems to me more significant than the underlying story, which, after all, is merely additive to several other such stories. The greater point is that Donald Trump and Mike Pence and everyone working for the Trump campaign has total contempt, not merely for the truth, but for the intelligence of the people it’s trying to fool and the professional skill and seriousness of the reporters he needs to help fool them. An organization that refuses to acknowledge any limits to what it can get away from has the makings of a totalitarian cult.

Footnote: For my money, the most explosive substantive charge – both because the same incident is vouched for by five women, and because the victims were minors at the time, obviating any question of consent and vastly increasing the potential criminal liability had the statute of limitations not run – involves his walking in on the dressing room of the contestants at the Miss Teen USA pageant in 1997, gazing his fill at girls as young as fourteen as they were naked or half-naked, and cheerfully telling them not to worry because he’d “seen it all already.”  (Again, Trump is on tape with Howard Stern boasting of such behavior at the beauty pageants he owned, though not specifically with minors.) When one of them complained to the then-seventeen-year-old Ivanka, who was hosting the pageant, Ivanka reportedly said “Yes, he does that.” If that happened – and there seems to be no reason to doubt it – it was and is covered by statutes on Child Sexual Abuse, which carry draconian penalties; after all, if he’d merely looked at photos of undressed fourteen-year-olds on his computer he would have faced hard Federal time under the kiddie-porn statutes. Even Trumpites would have a hard time swallowing that, if it were being brought to their attention, but instead the media focus has been on the drumroll of adult accusers.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.