In liberal establishment circles, not much is made of Hillary and Bill Clinton’s ties to Harvey Weinstein. The Clintons deny knowledge of Weinstein’s reputation in the industry, though there was a decades-long rumor mill in Hollywood and prolific whisper network amongst employees at Miramax and subsequently The Weinstein Company, where the producer enmeshed his assistants and executives in his sexual assault plots. But ahead of the March 6 Hulu release of the television docuseries Hillary, which was originally slated to be produced by Weinstein right up until the bombshell allegations against him were published by The New York Times and The New Yorker—and which conveniently overlooks their mutually beneficial relationship—it’s time to give their alliance a second look. (Full disclosure: I was a member of The New Yorker’s editorial team when Ronan Farrow’s initial reportage came out.)
Who politicians take money from, especially when those politicians are willing to seek out lavish donations and lip service from the rich, is of interest to the public; and by avoiding scrutiny into exactly what these politicians know about who they associate with, we condone a political system swept up in cynical corporatism as well as abuse. In response to an October 2017 follow-up story about the network of powerful enablers surrounding Weinstein, Hillary’s lawyer Robert Barnett told the Times that talks about the docuseries ceased once allegations about Weinstein were published, but it’s easy to imagine that the Clintons must have at least caught wind of these allegations, as well as the idea that they were likely to become public, much earlier. (On Feb. 24, a New York City jury found Weinstein guilty on one count of rape in the third degree and one count of a criminal sexual act.)
As many outlets have reported, Weinstein has strong ties to both the Clintons and the Obamas, as well as to the Democratic Party establishment overall. Weinstein has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats since the ‘90s, and has hosted fundraisers for candidates and even a birthday party for Hillary in 2000, during her candidacy for senator of New York. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was a Republican but is now in the race for the Democratic presidential primary, also had a “years long, mutually beneficial relationship” with Weinstein, as reported by Fox Business. (Bloomberg’s “company, through its male managers and employees from Chief Executive Officer Bloomberg on down, engaged in a pattern and practice of sexual harassment, sexual degradation of women,” according to one lawsuit; that multi-billion dollar corporation has had several women sign NDAs.)
Weinstein’s politics goes hand in hand with his business dealings. In his bizarre statement responding to the allegations reported by the Times and The New Yorker, Weinstein said that he intended to direct his anger (presumably about his bad behavior) towards the NRA; he also quoted Jay-Z, who he produced a docuseries with on Kalief Browder.
The Times has also reported that political allies tried to warn Hillary Clinton about his behavior. Both Lena Dunham and Tina Brown (former editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast) allege that they told Hillary’s aides about the stories going around about Weinstein—Brown says she did so in 2002, and Dunham in 2016, during Hillary’s presidential campaign. There’s also reporter Ronan Farrow’s claims to BuzzFeed that Hillary refused to meet with him about another, unrelated book once her team caught wind of his investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Weinstein.
Weinstein is especially proud of his connection to the Clintons, and before the allegations against him became public, both parties did what they could to hand favors back and forth. These indulgences included a Weinstein TV appearance where he interviewed Bill, as well as an appearance on CBS News during Hillary’s 2016 primary campaign that the Clinton team coached him for, according to leaked emails. (As revealed via screenshots by conservative writer Alexandra DeSanctis, in 2012, beloved Hollywood director and former public relations mogul Ava DuVernay tweeted that she had “heard all the Harvey stories over the years” but was “still a fan,” based on this interview with the former president.)
The Obamas also cashed in on their Weinstein connections while the air was clear. In February 2017, Barack Obama’s daughter Malia interned at The Weinstein Company mere months before the allegations against the producer were published. Before that, during the summer of 2015, Malia interned on the set of Dunham’s HBO TV show Girls; Dunham told the Times that, in 2016, during the Clinton presidential campaign, she warned Hillary’s aides—including the campaign’s deputy communications director Kristina Schake and spokeswoman Adrienne Elrod—that Weinstein was a rapist and known throughout the industry to be a predator. According to Dunham, Schake said they would share this information with campaign manager Robby Mook, who is now a political pundit on CNN. Both Elrod and Schake deny that Dunham “mentioned rape,” and Hillary’s current communications director Nick Merrill implied to Times reporters that Dunham should’ve contacted the police, not Hillary’s aides, about the allegations.
Mook knew Weinstein personally, as well. In October, just before the 2016 general election, The Intercept reported on hacked emails that showed Weinstein and Mook strategizing, in April of that year, about how to counter Bernie Sanders’ support from African-American communities, especially given the Sanders campaign’s endorsement from the late Black Lives Matter activist Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, who was killed while unarmed by police officer Daniel Pantaleo in 2014. In the emails, Weinstein brought up the Vermont senator’s voting history on guns, suggesting that Hillary’s campaign link it to the recent Sandy Hook massacre. According to emails, Mook was enthusiastic about the strategy and made plans to meet up with Weinstein to work it out.
“How could we have known? He raised money for me, for the Obamas, for Democrats in general. And that at the time was something that everybody thought made sense. And of course, if all of us had known what we know now, it would have affected our behavior.”
— Hillary Clinton
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter about the upcoming docuseries, Hillary went on the defensive when asked if she had “regrets about her lengthy association with Weinstein”: “How could we have known?” she asked, rhetorically. “He raised money for me, for the Obamas, for Democrats in general. And that at the time was something that everybody thought made sense. And of course, if all of us had known what we know now, it would have affected our behavior.”
Unfortunately, Hillary’s interviewer moved on quickly from this dismissal, which is an insufficient explanation for her years of deep, sustained, economic and personal alliance with a known bully and predator. Several people around Weinstein, in his office and in the industry, reportedly knew; Hillary’s own campaign aides Schake and Elrod even admitted to having heard secondhand reports. Either you have to believe that Hillary’s team purposefully insulated her from inconvenient information in the midst of a rocky presidential campaign, or that her ignorance is willful, strategic, and potentially dates back as far as 2002 (when Brown claimed to have warned her team about Weinstein).
Politicians are not known for transparency about their wealthy corporate donors, and Weinstein, who had liberal Hollywood on his side, was, for a time, the perfect champion. He had the money, connections, and cultural relevance to serve as a campaign surrogate for Hillary. He also, like the Clintons, had amassed a long list of owed favors: By making his business the making of Hollywood stars, Weinstein had the perfect mechanism with which to rally support for establishment Democrats (as well as local Republican politicians like Bloomberg), who rely on big donors and cultural influence to pull out victories.
And Weinstein has since hired even bigger, darker corporate muscle to back him: In 2016, he employed the private Israeli intelligence company Black Cube, which is run by ex-Mossad agents, to thwart journalistic investigations into his sexual misconduct by the Times and The New Yorker.
But the indisputable fact is that of all the Democrats Weinstein lavished donations on, only Hillary was looking to team up with him on a production in the days before the allegations came out in stories by journalists Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Farrow. In Catch and Kill, Farrow writes that Merrill—Hillary’s communications director who seemed to gaslight Lena Dunham to the Times in 2017—sent Farrow an email saying that “the big story,” meaning the Weinstein story, “was a problem for us.” Presumably, Weinstein leaned on Hillary to order this form of veiled intimidation.
Farrow is very careful about how he addresses the episode and refuses to unequivocally say that Hillary must have known something about the allegations against Weinstein, which is unsurprising for any mainstream journalist who must maintain a posture of impartiality in order to keep a job. But based on his account as well as extensive reporting about Weinstein and the Clintons from various media outlets, it becomes increasingly silly to believe Hillary’s claim that she didn’t know a thing. In fact, it seems that Hillary and her team hoped to financially benefit from the decades-long conspiracy of silence around Weinstein.
So if you decide to watch Hillary, the Clintons’ latest PR move in bingeable form, do it with all the facts in mind.