Here’s a weird local angle on the Trump campaign’s struggles to overturn the 2020 presidential election: A member of the campaign’s “elite strike force” once played a significant role in defending the reputation of another alleged sexual predator elected to high office, a U.S. senator from Washington.
Among the president’s legal eagles, Rudy Giuliani has soaked up most of the limelight until his hospitalization with a case of COVID-19. Sidney Powell’s imaginative powers briefly made her a star but were too much even for Trumpworld. That leaves Jenna Ellis and another Trump attorney, Joseph diGenova, who’s often appeared alongside the others. He deserves close study, and not only because he earned headlines of his own recently by saying Trump’s former cybersecurity chief should be killed.
The cybersecurity official, Chris Krebs, is a former Microsoft executive who incurred the wrath of diGenova and the president by joining a coalition of federal and state election officials in declaring the 2020 election “the most secure in United States history.” That got him fired via a Trump tweet. In a 60 Minutes interview, Krebs debunked the president’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.
The next day, diGenova appeared on the Howie Carr radio show, simulcast on Newsmax. The attorney called Krebs an “idiot” and “class A moron” who “should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.” He later said he was joking.
Bear in mind that diGenova is not your average QAnon cultist. He’s a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. A Georgetown law graduate, he served as chief counsel to the Senate rules and judiciary committees. In 1996 he started a law firm in D.C. with his lawyer wife, Victoria Toensing.
Together, they’ve gained notoriety as exponents of baseless conspiracy theories, such as that a secretive group of FBI agents concocted the Russia investigation of Trump as a way to prevent him from becoming president. Toensing and diGenova were regular guests on Fox News until autumn 2019, when they were exposed for spreading Ukrainian disinformation against Joe Biden. A few weeks later, their frequent appearances on Fox Business with Lou Dobbs (a former KING-TV news anchor, by the way) also came to an end after diGenova spewed an anti-Semitic tirade against financier George Soros.
All these adventures were still ahead of diGenova in 1987 when, as U.S. Attorney for D.C., he oversaw the handling of a criminal complaint against Washington’s Sen. Brock Adams. A Democrat, Adams had been elected to the Senate the year before. He previously served six terms in the House, from the Seattle area’s Seventh District, and had a short, unhappy stint as President Carter’s Secretary of Transportation.
The office of U.S. Attorney for D.C. is unique in that it’s responsible for prosecuting not only federal crimes but also all other serious adult crimes committed in the District. And the complaint against Adams was serious enough. It was brought by a 24-year-old House aide, Kari Tupper, a Seattle native and University of Washington graduate. She told police that Adams, 60, sexually assaulted her and may have drugged her in order to do so.
The backstory on this incident is intriguing, and its repercussions are a telling reflection of a society whose sexual, political and journalistic standards were in flux. The definitive account is yet to be written. Suffice to say here that Adams denounced Tupper’s allegations as “horrible lies,” although he admitted she spent a night at his D.C. home while he was in residence but his wife was out of town. Tupper’s friends and House colleagues said they witnessed her traumatized state immediately after the incident. They said she gave an account of it consistent with what she later told police. But there was no physical evidence that Tupper was drugged or assaulted. After a brief inquiry, diGenova said Tupper lacked credibility and dismissed her complaint.
Which is a prosecutor’s prerogative, but in the absence of a court proceeding, Tupper’s allegations and Adams’ denials devolved into a murky case of he-said, she-said. Rejecting calls for his resignation, Adams soldiered on in the Senate, discovering a sudden interest in women’s health issues.
As his term wound down, however, his chances of winning reelection were not looking good. That’s when diGenova re-entered the picture. In 1991, the lifelong Republican attended a $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser for Adams’ campaign, not to give money but to answer reporters’ questions about Tupper’s charges. “To say the case was meritless is an understatement,” he told The Washington Post.
That dismissive wave of the hand suddenly looked less credible in March 1992, in the midst of Adams’ campaign, when The Seattle Times published allegations against him from eight other women. They were unidentified but the signed affidavits were to be made public if Adams sued for libel. Like Tupper, these women told lurid tales of sexual harassment, suspect cocktails, abuse, and a rape. Other women who worked on the Hill said he had a reputation for lechery, commonly referred to as “Brock’s problem.”
Adams continued to maintain his innocence but abandoned his reelection bid, a move that caused consternation among his fellow senators. “In their anguish for a fallen colleague and a tainted institution, some senators appeared almost stunned at how swiftly the rules of conduct had changed,” The New York Times reported. Adams’ downfall opened a door for the one Democrat who had dared to announce a primary challenge against him. Patty Murray was a little-known state legislator whose election chances were widely dismissed. But in part because of Adams, 1992 became the year of the woman in politics.
Adams retired to the Maryland shore, where he died of Parkinson’s disease in 2004. Not only is his former Senate seat now held by Sen. Murray, but his old House seat also is held by a woman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Tupper returned to Seattle, earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington, married and raised four children with her husband, George Bridges, now president of The Evergreen State College.
And diGenova continued defending powerful men, sometimes by disparaging women who might knock them from their perch. During the 2018 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, diGenova attacked Susan Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when both were teenagers. “This is nonsense,” diGenova told Fox News. “She really doesn’t want to testify. Because when she does, she’s going to look like the loon that she is.”
We’ve probably not heard the last of Joseph diGenova, who might seem an example of how political figures these days can indulge in outrageous, even violent talk yet suffer no consequences themselves. Not so. After he urged that Chris Krebs should be shot, diGenova was told he was no longer welcome as a member of the Gridiron Club.