Former aides to Vice President Kamala Harris charge that she terrorized them in a hostile work environment, continuing a pattern that dates back to her time as San Fransico district attorney.
The criticisms of Harris’s management did not stop her rise from prosecutor to California attorney general to U.S. senator from the nation’s most populous state to presidential candidate all the way up through the vice presidency.
Two senior advance staffers in her vice presidential office recently announced their departures, in a manner some former employees say is familiar to them.
“Look, this is a bottom-line business,” one senior Democratic operative told the Washington Examiner after the recent allegations broke. “And the bottom line is the vice president has challenges with staff wherever she is.”
The criticisms of Harris’s management style have taken on new relevance, however, as she is well positioned to be the Democratic presidential nominee at some point in the future. President Joe Biden, already the oldest person ever to hold the office, will be 81 in 2024.
Presidential historian David Greenberg, who wrote Republic of Spin: An Inside History of the American Presidency, said it’s too early to tell whether the claims will weigh on Harris’s future electoral prospects.
“Nothing in the news now will matter in 2024. If these reports are well founded, Harris has lots of time to fix them, and other more significant things will happen before then,” Greenberg said, calling the allegations “pure inside baseball.”
According to Business Insider, however, these issues have been cropping up for years.
Barbara O’Connor, a communications professor at California State University, Sacramento, told the outlet that at least 20 interns who had worked in Harris’s attorney general and Senate offices sought her advice in tears. O’Connor said that she helped several of them transfer out of Harris’s offices at the time.
There have also been high-dollar settlements linked to the veep’s former staff.
In 2011, a settlement was reached between the California Justice Department and a top aide to then-Attorney General Harris. Upon leaving, Terri Carbaugh, chief deputy attorney general, signed a nondisclosure agreement and received a $34,900 settlement, an amount just below the $35,000 limit that would have necessitated approval by the state Department of Finance.
A spokesperson for Harris said last July that Harris would support releasing Carbaugh from the nondisclosure agreement if the former staffer desired.
After the Sacramento Bee inquired in 2018 about $400,000 the California Justice Department paid to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit involving a longtime aide, the staffer resigned.
Harris’s office declined to respond to specific claims, but in a statement to Insider, a spokeswoman for Harris, Sabrina Singh, said:
“The Vice President and her office are focused on the Biden-Harris Administration’s agenda to build an economy from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down,” Singh said. “To making sure racial equity is at the core of everything the Administration does, to combatting the existential threat of climate change, and to continue protecting the American people from the Covid-19 pandemic.”
After Politico described “a tense and at times dour office atmosphere” in which “ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out,” one ex-staffer said the story traveled “like wildfire.” This person sent the report to their therapist, accompanied by a note that read, “Rarely in life are we publicly vindicated,” according to Insider. They told the publication that they sought therapy to “resolve trauma from the on-the-job abuse” after discovering that Harris would be Biden’s vice presidential nominee.
Earlier this month, there were reports of deep frustration with Harris’s current chief of staff, Tina Flournoy, a longtime Democratic operative who served in the White House under former President Bill Clinton.
Flournoy reportedly walled off Harris from donors and longtime friends.
Democrats and former aides have defended Flournoy, telling the Washington Examiner, “It does feel like the intentions of Tina Flournoy are good, which are to kind of clean up some of the mess and keep the hanger-ons away.”
This person zeroed in on the executive: “The consistent thread with all of the infighting and dissension, with all of the different power centers of Kamala Harris, is Vice President Harris.”
The news was “not surprising,” the person added. “The Harris inner circles, and I’ll use that plural because they’ve been different inner circles in California, in her Senate office, on her presidential campaign, and now in her vice presidential campaign [and] in office, they’ve always been rife with a lot of dissension and a lot of infighting. It’s probably a little unfair to say it’s just her. But she is a common denominator in all of these situations.”
According to Insider, an ex-staffer reached out to another to say, “Poor Tina.” Replied another, “I know lol that everyone is pointing to her when it’s obvi KDH,” using the vice president’s initials.
One former Harris aide recently told the Washington Examiner that he wasn’t surprised to see the vice president under a microscope.
“Hopefully, this is a wake-up call,” he said, pointing to what he called “self-inflicted wounds.”
“She’s taking on incredibly complex issues and is under the microscope like never before in her career. So this sort of treatment comes with the territory,” he added. “But she really can’t afford any self-inflicted wounds as they will distract from the important work she has in front of her.”
Biden vowed early on to terminate employees if he learned they treated others poorly.
“I’ll fire you on the spot,” Biden told staff at a swearing-in ceremony soon after he took office. He stood by this when a top White House communications aide verbally abused a reporter.
Asked about some of the charges during a press briefing this month, press secretary Jen Psaki demurred.
“I try not to speak to or engage on anonymous reports or anonymous sources,” she said, adding, “I will say that the vice president is an incredibly important partner to the president.”
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“She has a challenging job, a hard job. And she has a great, supportive team of people around her,” Psaki said. “But other than that, I’m not going to have any more comments on those reports.”
Speaking to Axios, Cedric Richmond, a top Biden adviser, blamed the stories on a “whisper campaign designed to sabotage her.”
Source: Washington Examiner : ‘Consistent thread’: Harris staff complaints predate her vice presidency