A woman who previously worked as the finance director for Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) is alleging she was harassed by the Nevada Democrat while working on his 2016 campaign, according to a report from BuzzFeed.
The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on Friday asked the congressman, who denies the accusations, to step down.
The woman in BuzzFeed’s story is identified only as Samantha. She asked for her last name to be withheld from the story, in which she accused the freshman congressman of repeatedly asking her on dates and for sex, even though she rejected his advances. She said he also touched her thighs twice without her consent.
“The staff member in question was a valued member of my team,” Kihuen said in a statement. “I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable. I take this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am, but I want to make it clear that I don’t recall any of the circumstances she described. I was raised in a strong family that taught me to treat women with the
utmost dignity and respect. I have spent my 15 years in public service fighting for women’s equality, and I will continue to do so.”
Samantha alleged that on Feb. 6, 2016, she attended a fundraiser with Kihuen. At the end of the event, she said that Kihuen walked her to her car. She recalled him saying, “You look really good, I’d like to take you out if you didn’t work for me.”
She said she told Kihuen she had a boyfriend and got in the car. She said that the advances escalated after that fundraiser and asked her if she ever “cheated on her boyfriend.”
A few weeks later on Feb. 19, she attended a meeting at a hotel with Kihuen and Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). While in an elevator, Samantha said Kihuen said the two of them should get a hotel room together, which she rejected. When driving back from the meeting, she alleges that he touched her thigh and asked about whether she’d ever cheated on her boyfriend.
Samantha said she texted a friend about the alleged harassment a month after she left the campaign. She detailed some of the instances to her friend in those conversations and BuzzFeed said it verified the screenshots of those text messages.
She said those advances happened while Kihuen was competing in the Democratic primary. She worked for the freshman congressman on his competitive congressional campaign in December 2015 and quit in early April 2016.
The woman told BuzzFeed that she felt uncomfortable raising the issue to campaign leadership and decided to quit working on the campaign.
Samantha said she spoke with someone at the DCCC, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, to say why she was leaving and explain that Kihuen’s actions made her feel uncomfortable.
“I didn’t know what they could do, but I felt like I had to let
someone know,” she told BuzzFeed.
Samantha spoke with a staffer at the DCCC who no longer works there but confirmed the conversation to BuzzFeed. The staffer, described as mid-level, told BuzzFeed he doesn’t remember the details of the conversation and only told one other staffer who held a similar position.
The second person told Kihuen’s campaign manager, Dave Chase, about Samantha’s conversation after she quit. Chase confirmed to BuzzFeed that the DCCC called and told him she quit because she was “uncomfortable” and also said that he addressed Kihuen about it. Kihuen reportedly denied the accusations.
“I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable,” Kihuen said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed.
In light of the allegations, DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) called on Kihuen to resign.
“Members and candidates must be held to the highest standard,” he said in a statement provided to The Hill. “If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, they should not hold elected office. Congressman Kihuen should resign.”
Kihuen is one of several lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have been recently accused of sexual harassment. Both Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
and Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) have been accused and a growing number of Democrats are calling on them to resign.
Politico also reported on Friday that Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) used taxpayer funds to reach an $84,000 settlement in 2015 with his former communications director, who had accused him of sexual harassment.