Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Monday evening defended her office’s handling of sexual harassment allegations from last summer and said she had “complete confidence” in Jess Fassler, her former chief of staff who recently became campaign manager for her presidential bid.
Taking questions for a few minutes outside the Capitol, Gillibrand said that the investigation was “thorough and professional,” “thorough and complete,” “professional and thorough,” and also done “thoroughly and appropriately.”
She said she had no regrets about the way the office conducted the investigation, saying that “as we do in all cases, we take these kinds of allegations very seriously.”
It was the first time the senator took questions about last summer’s episode, which ended with a young female staffer resigning in protest over the office’s conduct. POLITICO first reported about the matter Monday morning.
Last July, a female staffer in her mid-20s alleged that one of Gillibrand’s longtime aides made several unwanted sexual advances soon after the senator told him he would be promoted into a supervisory role over her. He was a decade her senior and married. She also claimed that the aide frequently made demeaning and crude comments about other female staffers and potential hires.
The office said that after “a full and thorough investigation into the evidence, including multiple interviews with current employees who could have witnessed this behavior, the office concluded that the allegations did not meet the standard of sexual harassment.”
Gillibrand’s office said it did substantiate one inappropriate comment from the male aide — her longtime driver, Abbas Malik, who also had the title of military adviser — and took disciplinary action, including taking away a potential promotion that would have come with a raise.
But the office did not reach out to two key former staffers who the woman repeatedly said could help corroborate her claim of inappropriate workplace conduct. POLITICO contacted both, and one of them alleged that Malik called her fat and ugly to her face and once made a joke about sexual abuse. She claimed he once said that a woman they were discussing “couldn’t get laid unless she was raped.”
After POLITICO presented this new information, Gillibrand’s aides opened another investigation and terminated Malik last week.
Gillibrand said she had not spoken to the woman since she left the office last summer.
“I trusted and leaned on this statement that you made: ‘You need to draw a line in the sand and say none of it is O.K. None of it is acceptable,’” the woman wrote in a resignation letter sent to the senator and top aides on her last day. “Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn’t accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and ultimately, intimidation.”
Gillibrand and her staff did not respond to the letter.