Accusers and activists will be in Washington on Wednesday, demanding the resignations of three members of Congress and an end to the Capitol Hill practice of secretly settling sexual harassment claims with taxpayer money.
On Wednesday, the Media Equality Project will insist upon action and answers at a 10 a.m. press conference at the National Press Club. Those expected to appear include four different accusers of former President Bill Clinton. Radio talk show host Melanie Morgan will also be there, just weeks after accusing Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., of harassing her multiple times after a television debate.
Longtime talk host Blanquita Cullum plays a leading role in organizing the press conference. She says one goal is to put the heat on Franken to resign, along with Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Joe Barton, R-Texas.
Franken is accused of groping multiple women, including radio host Leann Tweeden, who also accuses Franken of forcibly kissing her. Conyers reportedly settled a sexual harassment complaint with tax payer money. Barton was in the headlines last week when nude pictures he texted to a woman he was not married to were leaked online.
“There are members we feel have dishonored their office and the American people by conduct unbecoming an elected official. As you can see, it’s not partisan. We feel that way about the left and the right. We’re out there saying it’s not the politics of the right and the left. It’s the politics of the right and the wrong,” said Cullum, who has hosted radio programs on the east coast and now hosts “The Hard Question” based in Chicago.
Perhaps even more galling to Cullum and others involved with the Media Equality Project is the idea of lawmakers secretly paying off sexual harassment victims with taxpayer dollars.
“The other thing we’re going to demand is the release of the list of the slush/hush fund that taxpayers funded to the amount of $17 million over the past 10 years, covering up their private sexual peccadilloes, fights that have involved members from both sides of the aisle and some very high-ranking chiefs of staff,” said Cullum.
“One thing the members have forgotten is who their real bosses are. We hired them. It’s our money that’s paid for it. We feel it’s the right thing for them to do to let us know what we’ve been paying for. And if it’s something bad, they need to go,” said Cullum.
In the spirit of bipartisanship, Cullum says the group has invited leaders and activists from both parties and both chambers to be part of the press conference. So far the response from lawmakers has been tepid.
“We reached out to many members of Congress to meet with us and to be there with us, some of them high-profile Republicans. They say, ‘No, no, no. We want to handle it in-house.’ In other words, even though they know that it’s wrong and they’re out there on the cameras, some of them won’t show up with us because they don’t want a target on their backs too,” said Cullum.
Cullum says sexual harassment and even assault have taken place in Washington politics for a very long time, but she she says the American people should demand better.
“You have to understand that when you raise that arm and you take that oath that you’re committed to serving. If we can’t have America on a better ethical standard, what does that say for our direction? If we let this go, if we let this pass, what does that mean for our children?” asked Cullum.
“Those people are making decisions about your life, my life and everyone’s that’s listening’s lives in the United States. And you can’t trust them because they’re going to lie to you,” she added.
Cullum also has tough words for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” said Conyers was entitled to due process before she determines whether Conyers ought to stay in office. She also claims to be unaware of any accusers despite the settlement papers and another accuser who abandoned settlement negotiations.
“She puts the ‘ick’ in politic. She should be ashamed of herself. It reminds me of the old George Orwell ‘Animal Farm.’ All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. In other words, if he’s going to help her politically, she’s going to close her eyes to this stuff,” said Cullum.
Cullum says if Pelosi keeps running interference for Conyers, her job should be on the line as well.
“If she doesn’t take that position too, she needs to go too because she’s aiding and abetting bad conduct,” said Cullum.
On Monday, Franken apologized to any women who felt mistreated during their encounters with him, but insisted the best way for him to proceed was to rebuild trust with his constituents by doing his job.
Cullum says that’s not an option.
“It’s too late. The innocence is broken there. We know who he is. He can apologize all he wants but would you really trust him from now on?” said Cullum.
Bill Clinton may not be in office but his longtime accusers, including Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey will be at the press conference. Cullum says it’s time for those victims to get the respect they deserve and did not get at all during the Clinton administration.
“Those women were victims and they were very brave to step out against a press and a machine that was ready to make them bimbos, they were going to be ‘nuts or sluts. They’re there to shine the light of what that abuse can cause,” said Cullum.
She says the Clinton accusers were vilified with the most horrible of epithets and their physical health has suffered. She says the children of some Clinton accusers use different last names to escape the stigma that the media and political operative attached to them.
Cullum does not buy the sudden media epiphany in which they suddenly realize Clinton was a predator and probably should have been forced to resign. She says the media need to apologize to the women and do a much more professional job of vetting accusations in the future.
As for the perpetrators currently serving in Washington, Cullum says she hopes the time for tolerance for such unprofessional behavior is over.
“Americans have a standard of ethics. We’re not always perfect. Everybody has something to hide. But when you’re doing the job that you asked us for and you blatantly abuse it, you need to go,” said Cullum.