Ex-aide dishes to investigators about Guam delegate’s alleged affair with staffer

Democrat Michael San Nicolas also accepted improper donations, former campaign chairman alleges

Del. Michael San Nicolas, D-Guam, is currently under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Del. Michael San Nicolas, D-Guam, is currently under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 20, 2020 at 5:00am

The former campaign chairman for Guam Democratic Del. Michael F.Q. San Nicolas told congressional investigators — subject to prosecution if he lied to them — that the lawmaker accepted $10,000 in unreported cash from a local businessman during his bid for Congress and that he engaged in a sexual relationship with a subordinate on his staff.

John Paul Manuel said his former boss had an affair with Jennifer Winn, the lawmaker’s acting chief of staff, and accepted a donation in excess of federal limits from Andrew Park, a local businessman and president of the Guam Korean Chamber of Commerce.

Manuel divulged this in late 2019 during an interview with the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, nonpartisan investigative entity of the House.

“He just operates like he can get away [with it] and so far he has gotten away with it,” Manuel said in an interview with CQ Roll Call of San Nicolas’ alleged relationship with Winn. “They’ve been very good at trying to cover their tracks.”

Manuel’s comments about his interview with OCE are the first public revelation that the office has taken steps to investigate San Nicolas. People have been charged by the Department of Justice for lying to OCE, a charge Manuel would be subject to if anything he told investigators was proved false.

A separate inquiry is ongoing in the House Ethics Committee, which announced it was investigating the delegate in October. The bipartisan Ethics panel has subpoena power and can discipline members.

OCE, on the other hand, investigates and compiles reports of alleged violations. If it finds substantial reason to believe a violation occurred, the completed report would be transferred to House Ethics for further review. However, that committee has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic when it comes to addressing reports transmitted by OCE.

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In a separate interview, a former congressional staffer in San Nicolas’ office recounted observations about the lawmaker and Winn.

“He would put his hand on her shoulder. They would go out for smokes together,” the former aide said. “It just didn’t seem like a very professional relationship.”

“I really felt uncomfortable with the idea of working with someone who was having an affair with a staffer,” the former aide added.

Following several sexual misconduct scandals on Capitol Hill, the House in 2018 prohibited members from engaging in sexual relationships with their staff. That includes “any employee of the House who works under the supervision of the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner, or who is an employee of a committee on which the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner serves.” Married couples are exempt.

San Nicolas is married to Kathryn Santos Ko. They have two children.

Representatives for San Nicolas did not respond to emailed requests for comment, the first of which was sent on May 15. A voicemail was left with his congressional office Tuesday afternoon.

Winn did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

William Beaman, a spokesperson for OCE, declined comment.

Asked if there was any update on the San Nicolas inquiry that the House Ethics Committee is conducting, Tom Rust, the panel’s staff director, declined comment.

Meanwhile, Manuel also contends that San Nicolas accepted excessive campaign contributions.

“He accepted a $10,000 donation in cash from a local businessman, Andy Park, which he didn’t report,” Manuel said, referring to Andrew Park.

A campaign is prohibited from accepting over $100 in cash from a particular source, according to the Federal Election Commission. Additionally, individuals are restricted from giving more than $2,800 to a campaign per election.

Park gave San Nicolas $1,000 in 2018 and $500 in 2019, according to FEC records.

A request for comment was not returned by the Guam Korean Chamber of Commerce concerning Park’s alleged illegal contribution.

San Nicolas was first elected to Congress in 2018, defeating Democratic incumbent Madeleine Z. Bordallo in a primary en route.

Manuel worked with San Nicolas in Guam when the delegate was a local elected official and during the freshman lawmaker’s orientation in Washington after his election, but he was not given a job on the congressional staff. San Nicolas’ decision to hire Winn on the staff was a major point of contention between Manuel and his former boss, and ultimately played a role in them parting ways, Manuel said.

“He told me he intended to hire Jenn when he won. She doesn’t have a college degree, she had no experience in politics,” Manuel said.

Naps and missed votes

Since being sworn into Congress, San Nicolas has missed over half the votes he was eligible to cast. He has cast 156 out of 316 total opportunities to vote. This includes committee votes and amendments on the floor. As a delegate, he is not eligible to vote on final passage of legislation on the House floor.

The average voting record among House Democrats is 97 percent.

Only Del. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen has missed more votes. The American Samoa Republican has only cast 71 votes out of 316.

“He would take naps in his office instead of going to votes,” a former staffer told CQ Roll Call.

When San Nicolas was expected at committee hearing and didn’t show, they found him taking a nap on his couch.

“He didn’t show up at all,” the former aide said.

San Nicolas employs a very small congressional staff and has to undertake extensive travel to get back to visit his district.

Others outside of the office have taken notice of San Nicolas’ daytime dozes.

“I just heard that he will shut his office and take naps,” a former congressional staffer familiar with the office said. “He comes to the office and just naps when he hits a wall.”

Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.