Monday, March 18, 2019

Of Paula & April: Why Bill Clinton's Zipper Problem Is Haunting Donald Trump

Paula Jones seemed guileless and credible, if a little rough around the edges.   
And from the moment she came forward in 1994 to say that Bill Clinton had exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room -- he the governor of Arkansas and Jones a lowly Arkansas state employee -- she was kicked around like a bouffanted political football by the president's allies as a gold digging bimbo and by conservative Republicans in order to politicize the president's zipper problem.   No matter.  Jones's successful lawsuit against Clinton may soon haunt another president whose sexual indiscretions are even better known. 
A New York appeals court ruled 3-2 last Thursday that Trump, like Clinton before him, is not protected by the presidency from having to answer civil charges stemming from misconduct -- improper or illegal actions -- before the he took office.  A criminal charge is another matter as we well know from the heated Russia scandal debate over whether a sitting president can be criminally indicted. 
(Similarly arguing that Trump is not protected by the presidency for previous misconduct, a New York state judge ruled last November that a lawsuit by the state attorney general could proceed against the Donald J. Trump Foundation over misuse of charitable assets, self-dealing and campaign finance violations.  The foundation has since been shut down after disbursing its meager remaining assets.)
The New York appeals court ruled that Trump was compelled to answer a defamation lawsuit brought by April Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice," charging that the future president kissed and groped her without her consent in separate incidents in 2007 -- a job interview in Trump Tower and during a meeting in Los Angeles.  The suit, filed four days before Trump took office, states that he defamed Zervos and damaged her reputation by calling her allegation "yet another hoax."
The Constitution's supremacy clause, which prohibits states from interfering with the federal government's exercise of its powers, does not bar state courts from hearing claims over actions of a president before he took office, the New York appeals court ruled in expanding on the precedent set by Clinton v. Jones.  That unanimous 1997 Supreme Court ruling held that a federal court had jurisdiction over Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton for the Little Rock hotel room incident, but did not address whether the same held true for lawsuits filed in state courts. 
"The supremacy clause was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state's Constitution," New York Justice Dianne T. Renwick wrote for the majority.  "Read plainly, the supremacy clause confers 'supreme' status on federal laws, not on the status of a federal official." 
After the Supreme Court ruled for Jones, Clinton was questioned under oath by her lawyers and in the process denied that he had ever had a sexual encounter with a certain White House intern.  That, of course, is when his troubles really began.
Bill Clinton's zipper problem has had extraordinary repercussions.   
The Jones encounter eventually would lead to Clinton's impeachment, and while he was a pretty good president, his adultery in the 1980s and early 90s has been gasoline for the fire conservative Republicans have kept burning under he and wife Hillary (that "vast right-wing conspiracy") up to and very much through the 2016 presidential election, where it undeniably was a factor in the unease some voters felt about a woman who defended a lying and cheating husband rather than walking out on him.   
By contrast, Trump's numerous affairs, which far outshadow Bubba's in quantity and duration, have merely been a backstory for a criminal and thoroughly awful president and a piss poor reason for Evangelical voters to forgive him.  You can ask Melania what she thinks about the 10 women who claimed during the campaign that Trump engaged in sexual misconduct, but I wouldn't bother. 
Trump's luck may be about to change if the Zervos lawsuit continues to move forward despite court challenges by Trump's lawyers, who will appeal the New York appeals court decision. 
While Bill Clinton was known to have problems with the truth ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"), Trump is a pathological liar for whom the lines between fact and fiction are hopelessly blurred and whose worst nightmare is having to answer questions at a deposition.  
In one such case in 2007, Trump had admitted he lied some 30 times in previous statements he made regarding a range of subjects from sales at his condominium buildings to the depth of his past debts, and his chronic inability to be truthful is why he avoided a face-to-face interview with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who would have eaten him alive. 
The irony, of course, is that the harassment and assault claims against Clinton came to be politicized and nearly destroyed his presidency while Trump makes hush-money payments here and blanket denials there and so far has skated. 
At least until now. 

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