The Justice Department has turned over a decades-old investigation that uncovered sexual harassment at the state militia unit that sent troops to guard Puerto Rico during the 1950s — a document that could help lead to an inquiry into the sexual harassment of female employees at the White House.
President Trump raised the issue after being accused of sexually harassing three women who previously worked at the White House. He addressed the issue on Tuesday at a luncheon with Cabinet members, pointing to a complaint filed in 1969 by a then-firefighter named Milton Cruz with the state militia unit as evidence that he sexually harassed at least 10 female members of the presidential guard.
“President Trump said he had heard of the old complaint. He had not personally witnessed any reports of harassment by the guardsmen,” said Caitlin Carroll, a Justice Department spokeswoman. She said that “under the Privacy Act, the department is prevented from confirming or denying the existence of any records.”
W. Steven Barnett, a professor at the University of Maryland and an expert on military personnel law, said the existence of a misconduct investigation could be vital to substantiating accusations of sexual harassment made against Trump.
He said the former guard members had a strong argument based on the Justice Department report, for which Mr. Cruz had filed a complaint in 1969, that Mr. Trump would be allowed to transfer the female guardsmen to a new job.
“This would have been a look-back at the whole unit, from head to toe, and your responses are either you had no personal knowledge of what Mr. Trump said or you thought you can shift the female employees to a new job,” he said.
“Because that is all so important, it is a very significant thing,” he said.
The Justice Department’s records were turned over to Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, who has said he will launch an inquiry into the allegations, known as the Susan Smith case.
Mr. Nadler had written to the Justice Department in August asking it to turn over all records on the case, including information on possible other lawsuits involving other female employees of the presidential guard.