Esty Asks Ethics Committee to Investigate Her Handling of Abusive Top Staffer

Connecticut Democrat has no plans to resign over incident

Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., is not resigning over her handling of abuse and harassment allegations against her former chief of staff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., is not resigning over her handling of abuse and harassment allegations against her former chief of staff. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 2, 2018 at 9:10am

Connecticut Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty on Monday asked the House Ethics Committee to open an inquiry into how she handled abuse, battery, and sexual harassment allegations against her former chief of staff.

“Although we worked with the House Employment Counsel to investigate and ultimately dismiss this employee for his outrageous behavior with a former staffer, I believe it is important for the House Ethics Committee to conduct its own inquiry into this matter,” she said in a statement. “It certainly was far from a perfect process — and I would appreciate their advice, counsel, and review.”

Esty stood her ground over the weekend, weathering a series of calls from state leaders of her party and Republicans for her to step down over the episode.

Esty — by all accounts contrite — has no plans to resign.

“I have apologized for my mistakes in the handling of this matter,” she said in her statement. “I feel terribly for the victim of abuse. In seeking this inquiry, I want to clarify whether there was any wrongdoing on my part.”

The third-term congresswoman issued a full-page mea culpa Thursday as reports broke that it took her three months to fire her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, who had harassed and even left a death threat over voice mail to one of his subordinates in Esty’s office, Anna Kain. The two had previously dated. 

After learning of the allegations, Esty launched an internal review.

That process revealed that the “threat of violence was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women” on her staff, the congresswoman said.

But instead of firing Baker, Esty kept him on her payroll for three months; paid him $5,000 in severance from her congressional fund; signed a nondisclosure agreement about the reasons Baker was no longer with her office; and even co-authored a recommendation letter touting Baker’s “considerable skills” that he used to land a job as Ohio director of the gun control group Sandy Hook Promise.

Esty has personally reimbursed the U.S. Treasury for the $5,000 in severance, the Connecticut Post reported.

Over the weekend, many Connecticut Democrats urged Esty to resign, including the state Senate president pro tempore and a former secretary of state, The Associated Press reported.

The congresswoman “should do the right thing and resign,” Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney told the AP.

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Federal lawmakers from the state were critical of Esty but did not say whether she should step down.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, whom Esty succeeded in the House, said Friday he had spoken with the congresswoman.

“This clearly wasn’t handled the way it should have been. I talked to Elizabeth, and I’m glad she acknowledges this. Nobody working in a congressional office or any other setting should feel afraid to come to work,” he said. “Protecting victims of workplace harassment needs to come first, and the rules of Congress need to change to ensure that happens.”

The state’s senior senator, Democrat Richard Blumenthal, said Friday he was “deeply disappointed” in the way Esty handled Baker’s employment and severance.

Asked whether she should resign, Blumenthal said he wanted more information but that it was a decision for her constituents.

Few House Republicans, in the first week of their two-week recess, offered public opinions on Esty’s situation.

“There’s no place for this behavior in the House of Representatives which is why we passed this year an overhaul of the way Congress deals with harassment,” AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, said in a statement Friday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, however, did not mince words.

Elizabeth Esty orchestrated one of the most disturbing Washington cover-ups in recent memory,” NRCC spokesman Chris Martin said in a statement. “There is no place for someone who protects abusers in Congress, and she should resign immediately.”

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