Why do Republicans defend Jack Ryan?

Politics and policy.
June 23 2004 8:05 PM

The Republican Sex Club

Why does the GOP defend Jack Ryan?

Not in public, dear
Not in public, dear

Six years ago, Republicans demanded that Bill Clinton be investigated and impeached for having sex with an intern and covering it up. Now their nominee for the U.S. Senate in Illinois, Jack Ryan, is brushing off his then-wife's allegations that he repeatedly pressured her, despite her protestations, to have sex with him in front of other people. Instead of denouncing Ryan, many Republicans are defending him.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Here's what Ryan's ex-wife, Jeri, claimed in a divorce filing four years ago:

On three trips, one to New Orleans, one to New York, and one to Paris, Respondent [Jack Ryan] insisted that I go to sex clubs with him. They were long weekends, supposed "romantic" getaways. ... The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to. ... It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling. Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset. We left the club, and Respondent apologized, said that I was right and that he would never insist I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system. Then during a trip to Paris, he took me to a sex club in Paris, without telling me where we were going. I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me we would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried, I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me, and said it was not a "turn on" for me to cry.

How did Jack Ryan respond to this testimony? Here's what he said in his own filing:

I should not have to respond to the ridiculous allegations Jeri Lynn makes in these two paragraphs. I was faithful and loyal to my wife throughout our marriage. I did arrange romantic getaways for us, but that did not include the type of activities she describes. We did go to one avant garde nightclub in Paris which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with. We left and vowed never to return. I feel very badly for Alex [Ryan's son] that his mother would mischaracterize our activities and try to libel me and our relationship in this manner. Jeri Lynn knows I have political aspirations, because I had them throughout our marriage. She attended many political functions with me and testified about them at her deposition. In addition, Jeri Lynn is a celebrity and it is extremely likely that the press will go to our public divorce file. Apparently, Jeri Lynn did not consider how Alex will feel about his parents or himself when he learns of this type of smut.

When a judge unsealed the testimony this week, Jack Ryan reached for every spin in the Clinton playbook—and then some.

1. I kept it secret to protect my family. At a press conference Monday, Jack Ryan said he had fought to keep the divorce records sealed in order to "keep information about [my] child … private." He ducked most questions, claiming, "It's not helpful to our son." According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Ryan mentioned that his son had "special needs." Ryan didn't mention the "political aspirations" he had raised in his 2000 filing when he complained about Jeri Ryan making their marital troubles public. And according to the Chicago Tribune, "in September 2000, Anne Kiley, an attorney for Jeri Ryan, said in a court filing that one of Jack Ryan's attorneys had told her a few months earlier that Jack Ryan wanted parts of the file blacked out, removed, or sealed because he was 'concerned [it] would negatively impact his political aspirations.' "

2. It wasn't illegal. In a radio interview, Ryan said, "I think my character has been proven by this. There's no breaking of any laws. There's no breaking of any marriage laws. There's no breaking of the Ten Commandments anywhere." CNN showed Ryan saying, "No one has ever said that I haven't abided by every single law or abided by my marriage vows."

3. It's irrelevant to public office. Refusing to discuss the truth or falsehood of Jeri Ryan's account, Jack Ryan told reporters Monday, "There's nothing there that impacts my ability to be a U.S. senator." CNN showed him saying, "We're in a campaign that talks about the issue that should address our country: the defense of our country or our workers or the pro-family issues or the issues in parts of the state, in the suburbs. And so, think of just—what just happened. We had someone spending a lot of money to break into a file that a mom and dad wanted to have sealed to protect their son, and now we're asking what happened between a husband and a wife in the most intimate part of their relationship."

4. It's a left-wing conspiracy. According to the Tribune, Ryan's talking points "railed against a 'despicable' decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert A. Schnider to unseal portions of the divorce file" and falsely alleged, "This judge was appointed by Jerry Brown, the most liberal governor of California in history."

5. The woman's discomfort is no big deal. "She says three times over eight years [of marriage], we went to places that she felt uncomfortable," Jack Ryan said Tuesday. "That's the worst of it. I think almost any spouse would take that as, 'Gosh, if that's the worst someone can say about me after seeing me live my life for eight years ... ' then people say, 'Gosh, the guy's lived a pretty clean life.' " In another interview, Ryan said, "What's in those documents at its worst is that I propositioned my wife in an inappropriate place."

What are Republicans saying about Ryan's spin? They're parroting it and hoping the revelations will blow over. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters: "We fully support Jack Ryan. Jack Ryan has the ability to forcefully articulate issues and ideas that matter, such as national security and better job opportunities for people as well as education for our children. His ex-wife Jeri has said he's a good man and a loving father."

Phyllis Schlafly, one of the chief agitators for Clinton's impeachment, told the Sun-Times she still supports Ryan because the charges are unproven and were made during a custody fight. "Sure they're disturbing. They're unpleasant," said Schlafly. "But considering where they're coming from, I would wait for the proof before judging him."

Robert Novak, the conservative commentator, said on Crossfire, "The judge allowed joint custody of their now nine-year-old son to the two parents. Number two, it was Mrs. Ryan, not Jack Ryan, who was guilty of adultery. … Jack Ryan, unlike Bill Clinton, did not commit adultery and did not lie."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert "still has a Thursday fund-raising event for Ryan on his calendar," according to Wednesday's Sun-Times. Hastert's spokesman told reporters Hastert had no comment.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., who voted to find Clinton guilty on both articles of impeachment five years ago, said, "Divorce cases and child custody cases are by nature acrimonious, and allegations on all sides are often unreliable or sensationalized. The Jack Ryan that I know very well is a good and decent man. … I support him and continue to support him with enthusiasm and confidence."

Bill O'Reilly, the Fox News host, fretted about the politics of personal destruction. After O'Reilly's legal analyst pointed out that Ryan hadn't denied the story and "in a Clintonesque way, splits hairs" about it, O'Reilly complained, "Just think about it, any politician or somebody thinking about running for office, if they have an ex-wife who is mad at them or an ex-girlfriend, they are dead, they are toast, because you can make any accusation in the world. … It discourages everybody from getting into the arena."

Now we know why Bill Clinton got impeached. He was in the wrong club.

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