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#MeToo upheaval compels presidential candidates to express regrets about sexual misconduct cases

Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

When Harris was state attorney general, she named Wallace as chief of the Division of Law Enforcement. He was in charge of her personal security detail, and he was a crucial figure in her political life: He led Harris' successful drive to win endorsements from dozens of police groups that had once roundly opposed her.

In September 2016, Wallace and at least four others on her staff at the attorney general's office were notified of the initial complaint filed by Danielle Hartley, Wallace's executive assistant.

Three months later, Hartley sued the state, alleging Wallace had "harassed and demeaned" her in his Sacramento office. He kept a printer on the floor beneath his desk, she claimed, and ordered her every day to get on her knees to put paper in it or replace the ink, at times with him and male co-workers watching. Harris' successor, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, approved the settlement in May 2017.

Harris said she was not told about the case until the Bee asked about it two months ago. The inquiry led Wallace to resign as a senior adviser on her Senate staff in Sacramento.

"It was a very painful experience to know that something can happen in one's office -- of almost 5,000 people, granted, but I didn't know about it," Harris told CNN. "That being said, I take full responsibility for anything that has happened in my office."

Critics have attacked the credibility of Harris, one of the Senate's most pointed interrogators of Brett Kavanaugh when he faced sexual assault accusations at his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. A Bee editorial called her denial of any knowledge of the Wallace settlement "far-fetched." And if she's to be believed, it said, she "isn't a terribly good manager."

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Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State, said Harris was facing the conundrum of many politicians: How do they justify actions they took -- or didn't take -- before the #MeToo movement shifting public attitudes?

"It's very hard for those folks to go back and undo what they did at a time when it wasn't viewed as terrible as it is now," he said.

For Sanders, the Vermont senator preparing to launch his second campaign for the Democratic nomination, the politics are messier. Multiple women have gone public with accusations of sexism, sexual harassment and pay discrimination by male supervisors in his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton.

His initial apology last month in a CNN interview was widely seen as dismissive toward the accusers. Explaining why he'd been unaware of their complaints, he said: "I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case."


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