Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s path to becoming the next U.S. ambassador to India hit a potential snag Thursday when a senior senator said he wants Garcetti’s confirmation vote delayed pending an investigation into whether the mayor knew about and ignored sexual harassment and assault allegations made against his former senior advisor.
In a letter made available to Politico, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), “I will object (to Garcetti’s nomination) because I have received numerous credible allegations from multiple whistleblowers alleging that Mr. Garcetti, while mayor of Los Angeles, had knowledge of sexual harassment and assaults allegedly committed against multiple city employees and their associates by his close advisor, and that he ignored the misconduct.”
Investigators in Grassley’s office are reportedly conducting their own investigation into the allegations and requested the nomination be put on hold until their process is complete.
Grassley continued, “The United States owes it to the Republic of India to send them a qualified Ambassador that will represent the values of the United States. Mayor Garcetti may very well be fully qualified, but at this time, the Senate needs to look at these allegations further.”
Grassley also said his office had spoken with people who “have not previously spoken to the Foreign Relations Committee, and are presenting new allegations that must be fully investigated.”
According to Politico, Democrats can confirm Garcetti without GOP support, but they will need all 50 of their members in attendance as well as Vice President Kamala Harris’ vote to break a 50-50 tie.
The Office of the Mayor pushed back on Grassley’s allegations.
“Repeating a malicious falsehood will never turn a lie into the truth,” it said in a statement to Deadline. “The Mayor has testified under oath multiple times, including before the U.S. Senate, and stands by his testimony unequivocally: he absolutely did not witness nor was he informed of any of the behavior being alleged. The Mayor has spent the better part of his life advocating aggressively on this issue, and had he been aware of any such behavior, he absolutely would have acted to stop it.”
In February, the nonprofit law firm Whistleblower Aid filed a complaint on behalf of Garcetti’s former communications director accusing the mayor of perjury while he was questioned during his nomination hearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the sexual harassment allegations against his former advisor, Rick Jacobs.
Jacobs was accused of improper conduct in a 2020 lawsuit filed by Los Angeles Police Department Officer Matthew Garza, who claims Garcetti witnessed the behavior but turned a blind eye to it.
Garcetti has denied the allegations in the past — and did so again during his hearing, telling the Senate panel he has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.
The mayor has claimed he didn’t know about Garza’s accusations until the lawsuit became public in July 2020.
The White House stood by Garcetti — who was a co-chair of Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign — in a statement to Politico, saying that the mayor “has been clear that he takes any allegations of harassment very seriously and has made clear this type of misconduct is unacceptable in his office in any form…the president has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India.”
The whistleblower complaint, filed on February 2, alleges that Garcetti committed felony perjury on February 8, 2021, during his deposition as part of the lawsuit, and on December14, 2021, when he told the Senate committee under oath that he “never witnessed nor was it brought to my attention the behavior that’s being alleged.”
The committee in January advanced the nomination, which needs to be confirmed by a majority of the U.S. Senate.
Whistleblower Aid filed the complaint on behalf of Naomi Seligman, a former director of communications for Garcetti who says she was forcibly kissed by Jacobs and that Garcetti knew about Jacobs’ alleged pattern of harassment.
The complaint includes a previously reported upon photo of Garcetti and Jacobs from 2017, in which Jacobs’ hand is in front of another man’s genital area. In the photo, the mayor is giving a double thumbs up to the camera.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” the complaint alleges. Garcetti, the letter notes, denies having seen the placement of Jacobs’ hand when the photo was snapped.
Seligman claims Jacobs sexually assaulted her in City Hall in April 2016 when he allegedly “forcefully grabbed her lower back, pinned her arms down, pressed himself against her, and held and kissed her for an extended amount of time,” according to the complaint.
The document contends that Seligman notified the mayor’s former chief of staff Ana Guerrero, who the complaint said “did not act surprised” and allegedly said that “no complaints would be tolerated because Mr. Jacobs was important to the mayor.”
According to the complaint, in July 2016 the mayor emailed his staff from a personal account that Jacobs would be taking a leave of absence to work on civic and political matters, but that Jacobs “continues to be a dear friend, and one of (his) most trusted advisers.”
The complaint notes several allegations against Jacobs, including one in 2017 during which the mayor was allegedly present. Per the Los Angeles Times, the mayor’s then-chief legal counsel Julie Ciardullo testified that she was in an elevator with Jacobs and Garcetti when Jacobs joked about how crowded it was and moved into her personal space.
Asked during her deposition if Jacobs actually touched her, Ciardullo responded, “I mean, if you’re asking if there was body contact like I said, I mean, it’s — possible. Probable. Yes.”
She later added that she was holding a large bag in front of her, and it may have been the bag, not Jacobs, that made contact with her.
“I told him to cut it out,” she said. “And he was, you know, joking and laughing and…essentially the mayor told him also. And I’m not saying this was his exact words, but [Garcetti] said something to the effect of, you know, ‘Stop’ or ‘Cut it out.’ “
While it was clearly not behavior she wanted to continue, Ciardullo also testified that she did not consider the incident sexual harassment.
City News Service contributed to this report.
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