Congressional Democrats have done a good job sweeping this one under the rug, but a court of law will have the final say.
But the Democrats have another #MeToo problem, and it’s one that has conveniently fallen off the national radar: Rep. Tony Cárdenas.
Cárdenas has represented California’s 29th congressional district since 2013. Before that, he served on the LA City Council and in the California State Assembly.
In April 2018, the LA Times reported that a woman who went by the name “Jane Doe” filed a lawsuit claiming she was sexually assaulted in 2007 by a “public figure” who she did not name in the court filing:
Jane Doe met the politician in 2005 at a golf tournament, when she was a “star teenage athlete” and he was an “elected politician,” according to the suit. The politician “grew close to and became an integral part of Ms. Doe’s and her family’s lives,” the lawsuit states.
John Doe invited her to play at Hillcrest Country Club in January 2007, when she was 16, according to the lawsuit. Several hours into their game, the suit said, the man handed her a cup of ice water; it had an unusual taste, so she took just a few sips. The pair played golf for four or five hours, when the teenager “suddenly collapsed to the ground but did not lose consciousness.”
The man drove her to the emergency room. During the ride, he reached inside her shirt and rubbed her breasts, the suit alleges. He also reached down her shorts and fondled her vagina, according to the suit. Jane Doe was “frozen from shock,” according to the lawsuit.
The abuse continued for 30 to 45 minutes as he drove, according to the lawsuit. “Ms. Doe remained motionless and speechless throughout the entire incident in fear of what he might do if she did not feign sleep.”
The response from Democrats in the immediate aftermath was muted, almost clinical.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA), who was then the House Minority Leader, called for a “prompt” ethics probe into the allegations at the time. Then-House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) told reporters he was ok with Cárdenas keeping his leadership positions while the Congressional investigation was ongoing, citing due process.
Soon after the allegations were first reported, the story fell off the map. A month later, he won his primary. The LA Times noted “Cárdenas appears to have received stronger support in his district than in the primary two years ago.”
Just a few months after that Cárdenas was easily reelected to Congress with 80.6% of the vote in his district.
In spite of Cárdenas success at the polls, his accuser did not go away. In fact, in January 2019 Angela Villela Chavez spoke publicly for the first time about the allegations, saying she was inspired by Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser Christine Blasey Ford.
Susan Crabtree from Real Clear Politics wrote a follow up story this week on that House Ethics Committee investigation that Pelosi ordered into this matter last year, and as it turns out, the investigation has not yet taken place:
In an email Monday to RCP, Chavez’s attorney chided House leaders for failing to follow through with their promised probe.
“We absolutely believe that Congress should do what Rep. Pelosi said they were going to do: conduct an expeditious and thorough investigation into Ms. Chavez’s claims of sexual abuse against Rep. Cárdenas,” Lynne Ciani, Chavez’s attorney, said in a lengthy statement.
Ciani cited Chavez’s formal legal complaint, relaying that she “gained courage” to come forward with her allegations of child sexual abuse when she became pregnant with her daughter and she saw other “brave women coming forward as part of the #MeToo movement.”
Chavez, who filed a formal complaint against Cárdenas with the House Ethics Committee, also said through her attorney that she is “ready, willing, and able to testify before members of Congress if she is asked to do so in connection” with an investigation into her allegations against the California lawmaker.
Neither Pelosi’s office nor the House Ethics Committee responded to requests for comment. Cárdenas’ congressional office and his attorneys also did not respond to inquiries.
Is it because the House may not have the jurisdiction to investigate the allegations, or is Pelosi waiting out the clock? Cárdenas’s trial is scheduled to start in August, which will be at a time when the campaigns for the House, Senate, and presidency heat up.
Should Cárdenas be found guilty, Pelosi wouldn’t have to worry about the seat falling to Republicans. It’s in a heavily Democratic district. But the negative publicity it could bring to the party at a crucial time in the election season is something the House Speaker and vulnerable Congressional representatives in her party won’t be able to avoid.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —DONATE
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