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Andrew Cuomo dusts off Bill Clinton’s abuse playbook

If history taught us anything, it’s that powerful men still escape justice for harassing and abusing women.

Andrew Cuomo and former President Bill Clinton leave Temple Emanu-El following funeral services for former New York Mayor Ed Koch on Feb. 4, 2013.
Kristin Callahan, Ace Pictures/ZUMA24.com

The case against Andrew Cuomo just keeps getting worse. There are now seven women who have accused him of sexual harassment or inappropriate touching.

According to an attorney for one of his accusers, there are more to come.

New York lawmakers, including both U.S. senators, have called for him to step down. Just this morning, President Biden went as far as he has to date, saying that if the investigation of the accusations against him prove true, he must resign and likely face prosecution.

And yet, Cuomo remains defiant. In a bizarre and galling press call last week he invoked “cancel culture” to describe the attacks he was facing, and flippantly likened his ability to govern while the subject of an investigation to walking and chewing gum at the same time.

And a new report in The New York Times reveals that in the days after Lindsey Boylan first went public with her allegations, Cuomo’s inner circle began circulating an open letter that they wanted former female staffers to sign. It attacked Boylan’s credibility, disclosed personnel complaints filed against her, and accused her of “Weaponizing a claim of sexual harassment for personal political gain or to achieve notoriety.”

Cuomo was reportedly personally involved in crafting the letter, which was never released.

For many of us over a certain age, this whole thing is inducing flashbacks. But for the younger crowd who might not know, Cuomo is taking a page directly out of another famous Democrat’s playbook.

Over the course of his career in politics, both in Arkansas and the White House, former President Bill Clinton faced numerous allegations of sexual harassment, assault and even rape, all of which he has denied.

To fend off the barrage of accusations and preserve his power, Clinton, his lawyers and those in his circle — including wife Hillary — created a system of defiance and aggressive discrediting of the women, which not only re-victimized his accusers, but sent a warning to any others out there not to mess with the Clinton machine.

There were private investigators hired by Clinton to discredit the women claiming he’d had affairs.

Clinton associates, lawyers and friends routinely attacked the women as “trailer trash” and “out for fame and money.”

One White House aide reportedly ran a smear campaign against Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern Clinton eventually admitted to having a sexual relationship with, slandering her as an “unbalanced stalker and blackmailer.”

Other Democrats and even feminists, including Gloria Steinem — yes, that Gloria Steinem — rallied around Clinton. Steinem dismissed the crimes he was accused of as merely dumb passes, and credited him for, at least in her mind, taking no for an answer. She age-shamed and victim-blamed along the way.

The Clinton cover-up machine was a grotesque abuse of power by everyone involved in it, and the damage it did to women and their fight for equality and safety is immeasurable.

The precedent Clinton and his circle set — deny and smear — was repeated by countless others, from powerful movie moguls to cable news hosts to Donald Trump. Clinton wasn’t the first to do it, but he was certainly the most prominent to get away with it.

As Vox’s Matt Yglesias wrote, “Had (Clinton) resigned in shame, we all might have made a collective cultural and political decision that a person caught leveraging power over women in inappropriate ways ought to be fired. Instead, we lost nearly two decades.”

All this time later, Clinton may be a weakened voice for Democrats, but he’s still a revered one, who’s taken little responsibility for his past actions. Just last year he explained his affair with Lewinsky not as an abuse of power, but as a way to “manage my anxieties.” Hillary, too, is just as defensive and tone-deaf now as she was then, telling CBS as late as 2018 that her husband could not have abused his enormous mantle of power as the president because Lewinsky, the intern, was “an adult.”

If you think Cuomo’s defiance seems ill-advised, unsustainable and lacking self-awareness, it may turn out to be all of those things. For the sake of his alleged victims and all women, I hope it proves a losing strategy.

But if history taught us anything, it’s that powerful men still do escape justice for harassing and abusing women. Clinton’s never faced a single charge. He had a prestige speaking slot at the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Trump has been accused by 26 different women of various sexual misconduct. No charges (as of yet), and it goes without saying that he’s still beloved by his own party.

Indeed, Cuomo pulling a Clinton is sickening to watch. And I hope it reminds every single person who enabled Clinton then that it is still helping to enable those who followed.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.