Sexual harassment or hurt feelings?

Rep. Al Green, a Democrat from Houston, is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). These days, he’s crusading to impeach President Trump.

The “reckoning” for accused sexual harassers, including CBC founder Rep. John Conyers, thus comes at a bad time for Green. A decade ago, he was an accused sexual harasser.

The accuser was the director of his Houston office, Lucinda Daniels. The two had sex together. That’s undisputed. However, Daniels accused Green of sexual assault and sex discrimination. She threatened to sue him.

Green went on the offensive. He filed his own suit, claiming that Daniels was trying to extort money from him through her allegations. Green asked the judge to declare that he never discriminated against Daniels.

Green attacked Daniels character. He accused her of being a cocaine user, claiming that, at work, she had “a general appearance of incoherence at times due to apparent drug use.” He said that during a phone call with the congressman she could be heard purchasing drugs. Green apparently recorded the conversation.

If all of Green’s claims were true, his Houston office director was a coke head. Green had sex with her. The director felt free to purchase cocaine while talking with Green on the phone, and Green apparently did not feel compelled to report the crime. As the Daily Caller puts it, “Congressman Slept With And Then Sued Allegedly Drug-Addicted Staffer.”

It might also be the case that Green assaulted his staffer. Being a drug addict is not incompatible with being sexually assaulted or harassed.

However, Daniels backed off her allegations. She reached an agreement with Green in 2008 in which she gave up all claims against the congressman without payment or promise of money. In exchange, Green had his case against Daniels dismissed.

We shouldn’t look behind this agreement. Rather, we should conclude that Green probably did not assault or sexually harass Daniels.

But what if we were back in 2007-08, before the agreement was reached, but with the post-Harvey Weinstein mindset? At that juncture, Green was “credibly accused” (to use the currently fashionable term) of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Some might find Green’s counter-attack on Daniels persuasive, but others might call Daniels drug use irrelevant and/or accuse Green of smearing his victim.

Al Green has a safe seat in Congress. But one can imagine the representative of certain districts being severely harmed if allegations like Daniels’ surfaced shortly before an election. One can also imagine demands for a congressional ethics investigation arising from her allegations. And, if Green were a Republican, one can imagine newspapers searching diligently for other staffers with whom Green had sex and might have harassed.

The allegations against Green were fresh. Thus, Green was able to launch an effective counter-attack.

What if they had been decades old? What would Green have done then? I doubt he would have gotten any more mileage out of assertions (even if true) that Daniels uses coke than Roy Moore has gotten from the fact that his principle accuser, Leigh Corfman, is (or was) emotionally disturbed.

Meanwhile, Green, having thrust himself into the limelight with his ridiculous impeachment campaign, decided publicly to address his 2007-08 dispute with Daniels. The two put out a statement declaring:

In the present climate, we wish to jointly quiet any curious minds about our former and present relationship with one another. We are friends, and have long been friends. At an unfortunate time in our lives, when both of our feelings were hurt, we hastily made allegations against one another that have been absolutely resolved.

My curious mind is quieted. There was nothing to see here except for hurt feelings.

However, I remain curious about the extent to which the “hurt feelings” defense will succeed in new cases arising during the “reckoning.” And about the extent to which that reckoning will damage political careers, fairly and unfairly.

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