It’s been a maddening truism of these last 18 months that a Mount Everest of events that would have been consuming scandals under previous administrations pass barely noticed under President Trump, so thick and relentless and foul-smelling is the offal through which we’re all being forced to wade.
But if there’s one story that deserves to be rescued from the slush pile and given the wide and damning attention it deserves, it’s the case of Bill Shine.
The former Fox News honcho is, of course, the recently installed White House communications director and according to some reports is on his way to becoming White House chief of staff. In his short time on the job, he’s already distinguished himself by his role in banning a reporter, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, for asking the president a question he didn’t like (“Did Michael Cohen betray you?”).
But that’s not why Shine should be controversial. While he was at Fox, he spent what appears to be a lot of time allegedly facilitating and covering up Roger Ailes’ sex crimes. Those crimes, if you’ll recall, were disgusting and legion. Numerous women, forced sexual acts, videotapes, and demotions for some women who spurned his advances. Over the course of years.
Shine allegedly covered for Ailes. Particularly appalling was the the case of Laurie Luhn, a former Fox employee whom Ailes subjected to 20 years of abuse that was so severe she once tried to kill herself. Luhn says Shine played a role in her abuse—in what was in essence her captivity—and that he sent her to a psychiatrist who prescribed her a “very serious, dangerous med” that made her hallucinate for a year.
All that is well known, and many people remarked on it back in early July, when Shine’s appointment was first made public. Then, on July 20, The New York Times reported Shine had been served with a federal subpoena pertaining to a criminal investigation into the ongoings at Fox.
The ante was already high, but I’d say that ups it considerably. Shine was officially hired as an assistant to the president. In White House hierarchy, there are three levels: assistant, deputy assistant, and special assistant (a lot of people assume special assistant is the first-rank post, because it sounds like it might be, but it’s not; assistant is first). But no matter—from first rank to third, everyone who holds such a position has to undergo an FBI review and obtain a security clearance.
Did a man who was questioned before a federal grand jury last year obtain that clearance? What questions was he asked by the prosecutors from New York’s Southern District? And what were his answers?
Step back: We have a high-ranking assistant to the president of the United States who is very credibly alleged to have been involved in covering up and facilitating sickening and illegal activity for many years. He was asked about it at a federal grand jury proceeding. Should the public not have a right to know what he said?
Ah, you say, but grand jury proceedings are confidential. Yes they are, unless the witness wishes to discuss publicly what transpired. A California court went against this in 2004, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that federal grand jury witnesses could make their testimony public, so that would seem to be the applicable precedent. Remember when Bill Clinton went on TV the night he testified before Ken Starr’s grand jury to admit that he did have inappropriate relations with Monica Lewinsky? That is what he was doing.
So if Shine has nothing to hide, he should demand that his testimony be released. He’s not working for Donald Trump. He’s working for the people of the United States. We should know whether someone who now holds an important and sensitive job spent 15 or 20 years covering up for a sexual predator and helping to destroy women’s lives.
Of course, for Shine to act, someone will have to press the point. And this brings me to the take-home point of this column. Where are the Democrats on this? I’ve been struck—or dumbstruck, more like it—by the fact that I haven’t heard a single Democrat say a single thing about Shine. That’s an exaggeration, no doubt. Someone must have. But I’ve read plenty of articles and don’t recall seeing Democrats quoted in many of them.
Indeed, the person who has made the most noise about all this is not a Democrat or even a liberal activist type. It’s Larry Klayman, the right-wing Clinton bete noire who spent 20 years trying to put Hillary in jail but now for the past three weeks to his credit has mounted a one-man anti-Shine campaign.
Democrats would counter, and not wholly incorrectly, that they try to say things, but all the oxygen is taken up by Trump’s tweets and Rudy & company’s leaks, and anyway they have no power to schedule hearings and issues subpoenas of their own. That is true, and it’s why people need to get out there and vote for every one of them whether you love them or not, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Joe Manchin—so they can gain that hearing-and-subpoena power.
Even so, nothing is stopping them right now from pressing Shine to release his grand jury testimony. Kirsten Gillibrand led an offensive against an admired Senate colleague who was accused of far less than Shine stands accused of. Where is she now? Elizabeth Warren, recently attacked by Trump in a tweet that also took a swipe at #metoo—where is she? (Gillibrand did once call on Trump to resign over the sexual charges against him, but that’s not realistic.) But it’s not just on the women. Several of them, women and men, should be involved in making Shine and his testimony a major issue.
Again, we can well imagine what would be going on if President Clinton hired an aide who needed a security clearance and then we learned two weeks after that hiring that the person had been a witness just last year in a federal criminal investigation into a sexual predation conspiracy.
Yes, the Democrats lack the right’s echo chamber. That’s an excuse for something not mushrooming into a huge scandal, but it isn’t an excuse for silence.