News & Politics

A Congressional Hearing for Trump's Accusers Is Political TNT: Could It Actually Happen?

All of the chips are in place, except for one important one.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Photo Credit: personal democracy / Wikimedia Commons

In a "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday night, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand pushed once more for a congressional investigation into accusations of sexual assault against Donald Trump. “I think he should resign, and if he’s unwilling to do that, which is what I assume, then Congress should hold him accountable,” she told CBS. “We’re obligated to have hearings.”

The chances that these hearings could take place, let alone pave the way for legal proceedings that could take Trump down, are slim. But the public, Gillibrand and Trump’s accusers are ready to set this plan in motion—and regardless of whether it takes place or not, her call for action could have near-immediate political impact.

Most recently, Gillibrand used the Rob Porter scandal to draw attention back to other sexual predators in the White House—namely, the president. “This is an important time to talk about this WH and whether they value women,” she wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Because, consistently, their actions tell us they don’t.”

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After Trump called for “due process” for those like Porter accused of abusing women, Gillibrand responded with a call for legal proceedings on Capitol Hill: 

Gillibrand first called for an investigation back in December, after several Trump accusers spoke on the "Today Show" about the abuse they received at the hands of the president. “He should immediately resign, and if he doesn’t, we should have the investigation,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Since then, more than 50 Democratic congresswomen have requested the House investigate the allegations against Trump. Eight senators have called for the president’s resignation and similarly demanded a congressional investigation.

The public wants these hearings, too. A new survey shows that 76 percent of voters—including a large chunk of his own supporters—support an investigation into Trump’s sexual misconduct.

More importantly, it’s likely that many of the accusers themselves would participate. Under oath in a congressional hearing, they could dissuade Republicans’ concerns that they are lying, which makes official investigation the ideal course. In a statement to AlterNet, one accuser, Lisa Boyne, who witnessed Trump parading models around at a formal dinner, looking up their skirts and commenting on whether or not they were wearing underwear, said:

“Yes, I will participate and swear under oath to my story. Trump is a liar and a bully. He doesn’t remember meeting me. He has no story to tell, just the broad stroke of ‘they are all liars.’ He lied about a lawsuit against me that will never happen because he will have to lie again under oath. He doesn’t get to use complicit women of his administration to tell my story. They weren’t there. Trump is using his bully pulpit to defend accused sexual predators, child molesters and now wife-beaters. I stand by my story 100% and I believe Colbie Holderness, Jennie Willoughby and all the other Trump accusers."

Several of the 20 women who have accused Trump could participate as well. Jessica Leeds, Samantha Holvey and Rachel Crooks, the three accusers who spoke about their encounters with Trump on the "Today Show," all said they would testify before Congress if hearings took place.

If the hearings do happen, there is a marginal chance that Trump would be compelled to testify or even attend the testimonies of the women he’s claimed he never met. There’s an even smaller chance such a hearing would lead to impeachment proceedings; it’s unclear if sexual assault is an impeachable offense, and it would be up to the majority-Republican Congress to decide.  

Given the unlikelihood that her calls for hearings will come to fruition, which Gillibrand must know, there could be another motivation for her outspoken stance. Pundits have speculated for some time that she may run for the Democratic presidential ticket in 2020, though she has so far said she's not interested. Beyond her strong stance criticizing Trump’s behavior toward women, she’s been one of the most consistent Democrats to vote against his policies and nearly all of his government appointees. Her media push in recent months, including appearances on CNN and Sunday’s "60 Minutes," could have as much to do with positioning herself as a contender as with denouncing Trump’s behavior.

Gillibrand’s months-long feud with Trump has certainly painted her as a bold contender. Trump sexually harassed Gillibrand on Twitter back in December after she proclaimed her support for his accusers and began calling for a congressional hearing. Her response was quick and strong: “You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.”

While an official congressional hearing is unlikely to take place as long as Congress is controlled by the GOP, if she's serious about making the hearing happen and not merely using it as a way to boost her visibility, an alternative route Gillibrand could pursue would be to host the hearing independently through her own Senate offices. Such a convening would not require congressional followup like an official investigation, but would certainly build momentum for the case that Trump is unfit for office. It would at least have more backbone than billionaire Tom Steyer's monumental impeachment push.

As of now, Gillibrand hasn't announced interest in any such plan, and is sticking to the official congressional route. A spokesperson for Gillibrand told AlterNet: “We don't have the ability to call [official] hearings, so we are making the case publicly to put pressure on Congress to do its job, and it's clear the public agrees with us.”

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Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.