WASHINGTON — In April 2018, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand urged Senate leaders to pass her bipartisan Congressional Harassment Reform Act. “Congress has a sexual harassment problem — and isn’t taking it seriously,” Gillibrand wrote in Fortune magazine. “If we can’t clean up our own act, how can anyone expect Congress to do the right thing for victims and survivors in the rest of the country?”
Months later, when a woman in her own office reported that a married male staffer was making unwanted, aggressive sexual advances toward her, Gillibrand did not fire him. Politico reported that “Less than three weeks after reporting the alleged harassment and subsequently claiming that the man retaliated against her for doing so, the woman told chief of staff Jess Fassler that she was resigning because of the office’s handling of the matter.”
Gillibrand’s office defended her inaction, saying in a statement that the senator’s office had conducted a “full and thorough investigation” that included “multiple interviews with relevant current employees who could potentially corroborate the claims” but did not find cause to fire the male staffer.
They could not “corroborate” her claims? Gillibrand was willing to destroy Brett Kavanaugh’s career over such allegations, but when an employee said she was sexually harassed by one of Gillibrand’s top aides, the senator hid. They never contacted two former employees the woman said could corroborate her story.
Politico had no problem doing that. The news organization interviewed more than 20 former staffers who alleged a pattern of harassment by aide Abbas Malik. One former staffer said “Malik often called her fat and unattractive to her face and made light of sexual abuse.” Others said Malik “regularly made misogynistic jokes, frequently appraised what they wore, disparaged the looks of other female staffers and rated the attractiveness of women who came in for interviews.” If a reporter could find this information, her office could have too. Only after additional allegations arose did the senator fire Malik.
The fact is, while publicly positioning herself as a champion of harassment victims, Gillibrand apparently allowed a serial harasser to torment her female staff. And when a staff member risked her own career to report the conduct, “I was belittled by her office and treated like an inconvenience,” she told Politico.
Politico reported that “Malik had spent years by Gillibrand’s side as her driver — the senator officiated at his wedding — while the woman was a more recent hire and had significantly less stature in the office.” The hypocrisy is rank. Gillibrand is pushing legislation, the Military Justice Improvement Act, that would make independent prosecutors, rather than military commanders, responsible for handling allegations of sexual misconduct in the military, because of “the bias and inherent conflicts of interest.” Yet in her own office she had no concern about bias and inherent conflicts of interest.
Thiessen, a Washington Post Writers Group columnist, may be reached @marcthiessen on Twitter.