Dingell groped by ‘historical figure’ in ’80s

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell on Friday recalled an incident decades ago when a “historical figure” groped her at a dinner event, and instances when a senator made unwanted advances toward her.

Dingell, who did not name the individuals, said it was during her first year of marriage to Rep. John Dingell — whom she married in 1981 and later succeeded in Congress — that the historical figure’s “hand kept going up the leg, I took it off.”

“I was lucky the night it happened, very; I didn’t know what to do,” the second-term congresswoman said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“A woman member was at my table, recognized what was happening, and said switch places. You know, we watch out for each other. That’s the other thing we’ve got to do.”

She also recounted a senator who would be “aggressive” toward her and other women on Capitol Hill in the 1980s. She has been a longtime figure on the Washington scene, including working for more than 30 years for General Motors before her eventual election to Congress.

“I was married, but I didn’t want my husband to know because I was afraid he might kill him. Everybody at my office knew and the minute we were at a social setting, somebody would move in to protect me so I’d never be alone,” Dingell said.

“I’m not going to name who this person is because ... and that’s part of the problem. A lot of women don’t have the courage because, even though they’ve got the ‘me too’ story, there are consequences.”

Dingell, 63, was on “New Day” to discuss the raft of sexual harassment scandals involving figures from Hollywood, the media and politics, including Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.

Franken on Thursday called for an ethics investigation of his own behavior after a Los Angeles radio host accused him of kissing and groping her without her consent during a USO tour in 2006.

Several women have come forward in recent days and accused Alabama Senate hopeful Roy Moore of pursuing them when they were teenagers and he was a prosecutor in his 30s.

CNN Anchor Alisyn Camerota asked Dingell for her “me too” moment.

“I have too many of them,” Dingell replied. “It was a fact of life. It was Republicans, it was Democrats. People knew who to avoid. You tried to watch out for each other. But if you said anything, you were the troublemaker. You were the person that would pay the price.”

Dingell described an incident during her first job when she was stalked by a co-worker who found out about her father’s addiction to prescription drugs and tried to blackmail her.

“I had a man who was my supervisor who found out about my father, who I’ve only talked about in the last year or two, tried to blackmail me. Tried to do everything he could,” Dingell said.

“Other people knew about it and I was told: ‘Look, the 14th floor — which was executive floor — likes him. Deal with it or leave.’”

Dingell was asked whether sitting lawmakers in Congress accused of misconduct should be named.

“Well, I don’t know who they’re talking about, you know. I’ve heard rumors for a long time,” she said.

“Women are still going to pay the consequences. That’s what I want to figure out. How do we protect the survivor so that in the end they’re not labeled a troublemaker? You know, it sounds great for the moment but are they going to be able to get the next job?”


(202) 662-8736