Republicans use Trump impeachment to revive 1970s-era sexism: 'Watergate Girl'

Jill Wine-Banks, Opinion contributor

The House impeachment hearing last week left me with no doubt about three things. First, it clarified the constitutional standard for an impeachable offense. Second, it showed that, based on the evidence, President Donald Trump committed multiple impeachable offenses. And third, it demonstrated that sexism is alive and thriving in the Republican Party — and I’m as mad about it as George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s goldendoodle.

Law professor Pamela Karlan of Stanford brilliantly displayed her constitutional expertise to the House Judiciary Committee, and she responded pointedly after Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., insinuated that she and the other panel members were mere academics as opposed to fact witnesses. “I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts, so I'm insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I would not care about those facts," she said. Karlan also noted that she ate "a turkey that came to us in the mail that was already cooked because I was spending my time doing this."

None of that stopped Fox News’ Tucker Carlson from calling her a "moron" and a “mediocrity” who offered “petty and dumb” testimony. "This lady needs a shrink," he said.

Insulted, attacked and ignored

Karlan wasn't the first strong woman to be insulted and attacked since Trump became president. It started with Sally Yates, who was fired as Trump’s acting attorney general after she spoke truth to power — telling the White House that national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI and refusing to defend Trump’s Muslim ban. For this she was called weak and possibly worse. To me she was a hero, but she’s part of a growing list of women who have been insulted or threatened by Republicans.

The list includes former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — "the woman," as Trump called her in his July phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. She was, he told Zelensky, "bad news” and "she's going to go through some things."

"The Watergate Girl" will be published in February 2020.

There was also former Trump national security aide Fiona Hill, who had to point out in her testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that women’s anger is often misperceived and "not fully appreciated." I'd add it's often ignored, because, as Hill said, when women show anger, they’re seen as “emotional.”

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So you can see why I’m angry, but my anger didn’t start last week. It started during the 2016 campaign with Trump’s “grab them by the p---y” remark and sexual misconduct accusations of two dozen women, all with no consequences for him. That set the tone for Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, despite the absence of any serious investigation of the credible sexual assault allegation from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, another brave, strong woman who took on the Republicans despite the predictable slings and arrows she would face.

1970s sexism is surging in Trump era

Outside the impeachment inquiry, there are numerous examples of a surging recurrence of 1970s sexism. I was recently on a radio show with Jenna Ellis, a former Fox News guest who is now a senior legal adviser to Trump, and Bob Bianchi, who, like me, is a former prosecutor. I disagreed with Ellis’ interpretation of the evidence against her client and said so, but I bristled when Bianchi called her a “nice girl” instead of a defense attorney.

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Women are “held to a different standard,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic presidential candidate, has said in the debates. “We have to work harder, and that’s a fact.” She had a retort for all those who think a woman can’t beat Trump: “Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.”

No doubt I am more sensitive to the verbal slights and disparate treatment of women because I just finished my memoir, "The Watergate Girl," and writing it forced me to relive all the sexism I had overcome — from being assigned appeals rather than a trial (because, I was told, I was a girl and more vulnerable to the Mafia than my male counterparts), to being asked what kind of birth control I used in my first job interview, to being called a “lady lawyer” to distinguish — and diminish — me from other lawyers. That was 50 years ago, but the Ellis “nice girl” comment was this month.

The “Girl” in the title of my book captures the 1970s as no other word could, but it’s 2020 now and it should be irrelevant. #MeToo and #TimesUp, I’m with you. The demeaning treatment of women of courage and power must stop. 

MSNBC legal analyst Jill Wine-Banks, a former assistant Watergate special prosecutor, was the first woman organized-crime prosecutor at the Justice Department and the first woman general counsel of the Army. Her book, "The Watergate Girl," will be published in February. Follow her on Twitter: @JillWineBanks

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment sexism: Republicans insult Yovanovich and Karlan