Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Esty won’t seek re-election amid criticism over staffer’s dismissal
Rep. Elizabeth Esty announced on Monday that she would not be seeking re-election, amid scrutiny over how she handled her former chief of staff’s dismissal.
“It is one of the greatest honors of my life that the people of Connecticut’s Fifth District elected me to represent them in Congress,” the Connecticut Democrat wrote in a Facebook post published Monday evening. “However, I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election.”
Earlier Monday, Esty had asked the House Ethics Committee to expeditiously review the issue, and the House Democratic leader said Esty’s earlier actions had not protected a former staffer in her office.
Esty’s previous public statements Monday came after media reports revealed that she had kept her then-chief of staff, Tony Baker, on the payroll months after the former staffer, Anna Kain, alleged she had been threatened and harassed by him.
“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,” Esty said in a statement Monday morning.
“In seeking this inquiry, I want to clarify whether there was any wrongdoing on my part,” the statement continued.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke by phone with Esty on Monday, an aide to Pelosi told CNN.
“The leader was informed of the congresswoman’s decision before the announcement,” the aide said.
Pelosi had issued a tersely worded statement earlier, saying, in part, “As Congresswoman Esty has acknowledged, her actions did not protect Ms. Kain and should have.”
The statement praised the former staffer for coming forward: “Ms. Kain is to be commended for her courage in coming forward and telling her story.”
Pelosi also used the incident to highlight relevant legislation that has stalled in the Senate.
“Nearly 8 weeks ago, the House passed the bipartisan #MeToo Congress legislation to address the broken Congressional process,” the California Democrat said in her statement. “The Senate is overdue in passing that legislation.”
Andrew Ricci, a friend of Baker’s who has spoken on his behalf, released a statement from Baker following the news Esty would not run again.
“I have previously apologized to Anna, Representative Esty, and many others who were hurt or impacted by my actions,” Baker said in that statement. “While there are still many who I owe apologies to, I do not expect forgiveness from anyone, whether they are survivors like Anna or victims like Elizabeth and others. I can only hope that my actions moving forward and over a lifetime of recovery can prove that I am a better man than I was during the time that I worked on Capitol Hill.”
Before her announcement Monday evening, Esty also sent out a “dear colleague” letter to fellow members’ offices, writing that after she learned about the issue in spring 2016, she “demanded counseling for my offending, then-Chief of Staff and … launched an internal review of management policy and practices and an investigation into what was going on in the office.”
“I also took a hard look at how I allowed my office to be run,” the letter continued. “Unfortunately, through the review process I learned that threat of violence was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of behavior that victimized many of the women on my staff.”
That’s when she hired a new chief of staff and instituted mandatory harassment trainings for her staff, the letter states.
Esty spent the holiday weekend hunkering down and working the phones to gauge her political damage over her handling of the allegations, a source close to the congresswoman told CNN.
She had been seeking guidance from colleagues, both in Congress and in her home state, taking their temperature and getting their advice on how she should navigate this controversy. This source close to the congresswoman described those discussions as being overall positive conversations, speaking with members of the Democratic leadership, updating them on things from her vantage point. At the time, the source said, no one from the Democratic leadership was pressuring her to resign.
A senior congressional source said before her announcement that Democrats on Capitol Hill admitted that Esty was in a “tenuous position” and conversations were starting to pick up about her future among lawmakers and staffs.
Esty apologized last week after media reports revealed that she kept Baker on the payroll despite having learned of the abuse allegations against him by Kain. The congresswoman had said Friday that she had no plans to resign.
In her letter to the House Ethics Committee, Esty said she learned about the allegations “through a third party” in May 2016, and dismissed Baker after receiving an investigation’s report on his behavior. Esty kept Baker on her payroll for three months after learning of the accusations against him, CNN has confirmed.
The Washington Post and the Connecticut Post, citing an affidavit for the protective order, reported that Baker called the staffer 50 times on May 5, 2016, and left her a voicemail saying that he would kill her.
In her petition for a restraining order, the staffer accused Baker of punching her in the back and “repeatedly scream(ing)” at her in Esty’s Capitol Hill office throughout 2014, according to The Washington Post.
Ricci had said last week on Baker’s behalf that Baker does not “dispute” that he took part in abusive behavior — including sexual harassment and berating — directed at the staffer, but he denies punching her. Ricci confirmed there was an incident in May 2016, where Baker — either during or after a happy hour drinks event at a bar in Washington — called the staffer and left an abusive and threatening message.
Esty entered into a nondisclosure agreement with Baker and wrote a reference letter for him even after learning of the allegations, CNN has confirmed. According to the Connecticut Post, Baker also received $5,000 in severance, which Esty said she repaid to the US Treasury.
This story has been updated to include additional information and new developments.