SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Documents reveal U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris was not alerted to certain sexual harassment claims against one of her close advisers while she headed up California’s Department of Justice as Attorney General.
One accused DOJ official, Larry Wallace, was working as a senior aide in Sen. Harris’ Sacramento office when the charge and subsequent $400,000 settlement came to light last week. Wallace immediately resigned and Harris denied knowing about the charge or settlement.
Wallace’s former assistant, Danielle Hartley, served the lawsuit on the DOJ in January 2017, so it appeared that Harris (and Wallace) had moved on to the Senate when the matter was settled in May 2017 by Harris’ replacement, Xavier Becerra. This timeline had helped to explain why Harris didn’t know about the allegations against Wallace, who was the director of the Division of Law Enforcement at the DOJ when the harassment allegedly occurred.
On Friday, Dec. 14, the Sacramento Bee reported, “an intake form from the Equal Employment Rights and Resolution Office, which oversees discrimination investigations and compliance at the Department of Justice, shows that the department was first notified on Oct. 3, 2016, of Danielle Hartley’s intent to pursue legal action.” According to the Bee, the form lists Wallace as Hartley’s boss and alleges she “experienced discrimination, harassment, retaliation, demotion.”
Harris admits that she should have been told about the claim, telling the Bee, “There’s no question I should have been informed about this. There’s no question. And there were ample opportunities when I could have been informed.” While serving as Attorney General, it does not appear that Harris issued any mandate directing the EER&R Office inform her about all harassment and discrimination claims involving high-level officials.
Being left out of the loop is nothing new for Harris. In 2008, when she was San Francisco’s district attorney, her office was accused of defrauding the federal government out of millions in grant funding. Harris said she had no idea there were issues with the grant money, claiming “staff had not told her about it.”
And in 2014, when Harris was the Attorney General, DOJ lawyers used some controversial arguments in a high profile lawsuit over early release for some California prisoners. When asked about the case Harris said she was “shocked” to find out what her own agency had argued.
Prof. Eric Schickler teaches political science at UC Berkeley and says Harris’s political future has not been hurt by the issue of Larry Wallace.
“Assuming this is an isolated incident and assuming Sen. Harris really didn’t know about it, it would be a blip,” he told KPIX.
“But if evidence comes out that she did know about it, that would be a real problem.”
Another potential problem? Harris getting rattled by recent events.
“What does sometimes happen to candidates is you have one kind of stumble and then another and then another and then people start having doubts,” said Prof. Schickler.
“I don’t think we’re at that point with Sen. Harris but that’s something you’d obviously want to look out for.”
He says this whole story shows how “expectations have changed regarding sexual harassment and discrimination. I think in the past politicians could essentially get away with not being as proactive.”
Harris has said she’ll made a decision about whether to run for president over the holidays.