When Mark Halperin Dismissed Sexual Assault Allegations Against Trump
Before his own allegations came to light, the ‘Morning Joe’ contributor said there was “nothing illegal” about Trump groping women.
The fact that Mark Halperin was one of the most sycophantic reporters covering Donald Trump’s bid for the White House in 2016 was no secret.
What was a little-known secret in Washington until five women spoke out against him this week, is that the Morning Joe contributor and Game Change co-author, has his own history of alleged sexual harassment. Before NBC even got the chance to get rid of him, Halperin announced that he would be taking a “step back” from his so-called journalistic duties, saying in a statement, “I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain. For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize.”
Looking back on how Halperin covered the Trump campaign, however, it was clear that he did not understand what constituted inappropriate or even illegal behavior in regards to the candidate.
Last May, after The New York Times published an explosive story that included accounts of several women claiming Trump sexually harassed them over many decades, Halperin—a seasoned political pundit—said on Morning Joe that the candidate should be “celebrating” the news.
“There's some troubling things in the piece, but there's nothing illegal, there's nothing even kind of like beyond boorish or politically incorrect, which is built into the Donald Trump brand,” Halperin said at the time. “So, if that's the best they have in this score, Donald Trump can celebrate this story politically.”
Among the actions that Halperin deemed legal was Trump allegedly “groping” a female employee under the table during dinner. “Let me just say, this was a very traumatic thing working for him,” the woman told the Times.
In October, after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump can be heard bragging about how women let him “grab ‘em by the pussy” because he’s a celebrity, Halperin initially tweeted this response: “When people say some new Trump tape could have material that is WORSE than the @accesshollywood video, what exactly could be WORSE?!?”
But a few days later on Morning Joe, after more women started to come and say Trump had done those things to them, Halperin remained “skeptical.” At the second general election debate, Anderson Cooper repeatedly asked Trump if he had actually done the things he boasted about in the video, ultimately getting a denial out of the candidate.
While Halperin acknowledged that “a lot of the women who have coming forward now are coming forward in reaction to what he said to Anderson Cooper,” he added, “we should be skeptical and question the timing,” given that the election was only a few weeks away.
And whereas Halperin always seemed eager to let Trump off the hook for his history of sexual misconduct, he did not extend the same courtesy to former President Bill Clinton. He practically predicted the “stunt” that Trump pulled on the eve of that October debate when he trotted out a group of Clinton accusers in front of the press.
“It's going to take the Trump campaign doing a stunt… doing something unorthodox and new, maybe his having one of the women appear at a press conference, whatever it is, that it is so out there that a reporter asks the Clintons about it,” Halperin said last May on his since-canceled show With All Due Respect. “I don't think a reporter will ask, unless they're basically forced to.”
On the handful of occasions that Halperin did criticize Trump in the realm of sexual harassment or assault, it was always from the perspective of political strategist. For instance, after President Trump defended Bill O’Reilly amidst his sexual harassment scandal this past April, Halperin said on Morning Joe that it was “not normal for a president” to weigh on something like that. Not because it’s morally wrong but because it creates a “distraction” from the message he should be projecting. “There's no reason for him to address it,” Halperin added. “None.”
In recent weeks, as the Harvey Weinstein allegations have dominated the news, Halperin was notably absent from the Morning Joe table during discussions about the Hollywood producer’s disturbing history of abuse. But as the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers noticed on Thursday, he did retweet his colleague Mika Brzezinski’s strong denunciations of Weinstein and his “media enablers.”
Brzezinski has been a passionate voice on sexual abuse stories, criticizing Hillary Clinton for not speaking out more quickly against Weinstein and hosting former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson for a conversation about her new anti-harassment book Be Fierce this past week. On Thursday morning, however, the news about Halperin got just one awkward mention.
“CNN is reporting allegations regarding our friend Mark Halperin during his time at ABC News over a decade ago, unnamed sources detailing unwanted advances and inappropriate behavior,” Brzezinski told viewers before reading from his apology statement. “We are going to be following this story as it develops I’m sure we are going to be talking about it again when we know more about it.”