There is a certain irony in the fact that three powerful women now are poised to play a formidable role in defining Donald Trump’s presidency — and not in ways you would suspect.
The political and legal drama surrounding Trump is a season blockbuster starring women you may not have heard about, but who take center stage as icons in their field. Here are the three women worth watching:
Kimba M. Wood. She is the seasoned U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan presiding over the case of Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney. When FBI agents seized Cohen’s cellphones, laptop and documents, the case landed in the Southern District of New York and in Wood’s courtroom. Wood was nominated to the federal bench in 1987 by Ronald Reagan (former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato recommended her). In 1993, she withdrew her nomination to be U.S. attorney general under President Bill Clinton after it became known that she had employed an immigrant here illegally as a baby sitter before it became illegal to do so.
A veteran of the political spotlight and legal wars, Wood is deft at dealing with complex, high-profile cases. She sentenced Michael Milken — the junk bond king who became an example of Wall Street excess — to prison for 10 years. In more recent years, she has presided over cases involving mob figures as well as the 2010 case of 10 Russian spies captured by federal authorities.
Barbara Jones. She is a former U.S. District Court judge in the Southern District who Wood named as special master in the Cohen case. In light of claims of attorney-client privilege by Trump attorneys, Jones will decide which materials seized by FBI agents at Cohen’s home, apartment and office prosecutors can use to prosecute the case.
Like Wood, Jones is no shrinking violet, having prosecuted mob cases. Jones was appointed judge in the Southern District by President Bill Clinton in 1995, and her high-profile cases include the 1997 trial of Autumn Jackson, convicted of trying to extort Bill Cosby; and her role as the arbiter who in 2014 reinstated former Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice. After 17 years on the bench in the Southern District, Jones went into private practice at Bracewell in Manhattan.
Amy Berman Jackson. Another superbly qualified woman at the center of the action, Jackson sits on the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. She has inherited the cases of both Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and his associate, Rick Gates. Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, has charged both men with multiple tax and bank fraud counts in relation to their political consulting business.
Jackson was named to the U.S. District Court in 2011 by President Barack Obama and immediately presided over difficult cases — including a class action over the massive data breach at The White House Office of Personnel Management as well as last year’s Justice Department challenge to the bid by Anthem Inc. to acquire Cigna.
But Trump, who has named twice as many men to appointed positions than women, could be irked by having his fate tied to so many powerful women deciding these cases — especially because of the numerous allegations that he sexually assaulted or harassed women.
As William Shakespeare proved, women often become the most complex characters with the biggest roles to play. Underestimate them at your peril.
Tara D. Sonenshine is former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. She advises students at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.