Weinstein scandal envenoms US political feuds

Washington (AFP) –


The sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein have seeped into America's partisan politics, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton accused of waiting too long to disavow their friend and party donor.

The politicization of the scandal came as the Hollywood producer faced claims he raped an Italian film star and at least two more women, a new angle to allegations that have rocked Hollywood and sent tremors through the Democratic Party.

Weinstein denies all charges, according to a statement from his spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister circulated among US media.

On Wednesday, Hofmeister offered "no comment" when asked about TMZ reports that Weinstein was heading to Europe to enter a rehabilitation facility.

His wife, British fashion designer Georgina Chapman, told celebrity magazine People she was leaving Weinstein, with whom she has two children.

The list of the Oscar-winner's harassment victims also reportedly now includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette and French actress Judith Godreche.

Former president Obama and Clinton, who last year aimed to succeed him in office, finally spoke up on Tuesday, expressing revulsion at the charges against a friend and supporter.

Clinton said she was "shocked and appalled" by the revelations, while Obama and his wife Michelle said they were "disgusted."

"Any man who demeans and degrades women in such fashion needs to be condemned and held accountable, regardless of wealth or status," the Obamas said in a statement.

The comments came after days of withering accusations by Republicans that the liberal elite was turning a blind eye away from one of their own, and with President Donald Trump's party demanding that Democrats jettison contributions by the movie mogul.

"Put your money where your mouth is. Return all of the dirty Harvey Weinstein money," the Republican National Committee said Wednesday in a video that showed Clinton denouncing misogyny and former first lady Michelle Obama calling Weinstein a "wonderful human being."

- 'Dirty money' -

Since 1990, Weinstein and his wife have personally donated more than $1.4 million to various Democratic candidates or political action committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Weinstein hosted or attended several fundraisers for Clinton last year, and has attended multiple state dinners at the Obama White House.

In 2011, he hosted an Obama fundraiser at his New York residence, where the guest list included Paltrow and rocker husband Chris Martin, television host Jimmy Fallon and singer Alicia Keys.

As Democrats began returning Weinstein money, Republicans painted liberals as hypocrites, despite many of their own party having stood by Trump when similar lurid allegations were made against him as a presidential candidate.

Trump's son Donald Trump Jr tweeted Wednesday that "maybe Hollywood will finally end their BS lectures."

The rape allegations against Weinstein, 65, were made in a bombshell expose published by the New Yorker Tuesday.

Previous allegations which led to his weekend sacking from The Weinstein Company had so far been limited to complaints about harassment.

The New Yorker investigation was published as fresh misconduct allegations emerged from Hollywood A-listers such as Jolie, Arquette and Paltrow.

Italian actress Asia Argento said Weinstein forced oral sex and intercourse on her 20 years ago.

She told the publication she had maintained her silence until now for fear that Weinstein would "crush" her, adding: "I know he has crushed a lot of people before."

Another instance involved model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, whom the New Yorker said Weinstein met in March 2015.

According to the New Yorker, Gutierrez says Weinstein "lunged at her, groping her breasts and attempting to put a hand up her skirt" at a meeting in his offices in Tribeca.

She reported the incident and the New York Police Department asked her to wear a wire.

- Bunga bunga -

Audio of their conversation in a hallway at the Tribeca Grand Hotel was released by the magazine, with Weinstein heard repeatedly pressuring her to come into his room.

Authorities decided not to press charges after it emerged the young woman had attended one of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's infamous "bunga bunga" sex parties.

As Republicans continued their criticism, many Trump critics pushed back, noting that the president himself has been accused of abusive behavior and that a tape has been released of him boasting of sexual assaults.

Trump insists his bragging was merely "locker room talk."

"It is somewhat ironic," Democratic former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm told CNN, "that the Republicans are ginning up all of this stuff about Harvey Weinstein when the president himself has been accused of sexual harassment or sexual abuse 15 times."