Chuck Grassley Wants To Link Andrew Cuomo’s Scandal To Fate Of The Equality Act
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is pushing to include details about Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David and his connection to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sexual harassment scandal in the official record from a Senate hearing on the Equality Act, a major legislative priority for LGBTQ rights groups.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, wrote in an Aug. 5 letter to the committee’s chair that details about David’s ties to the Democratic governor should be added to the record from a March 17 hearing on the bill. David testified that day in support of the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and other areas.
David, who was counsel to Cuomo from 2015 to 2019, has come under fire after his name appeared throughout last week’s bombshell report from the New York attorney general’s office detailing women’s allegations of sexual harassment by the governor. The Human Rights Campaign leader appears to have played a role in Cuomo’s efforts to discredit his accusers, though he denies any wrongdoing. Cuomo announced Tuesday that he will resign.
“A troubling report by the Attorney General for the State of New York found that this hearing witness for the majority played some role in efforts by current and former staff of Governor Andrew Cuomo to discredit a former employee who publicly complained of harassment,” Grassley said in his letter to the committee chair, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“The New York Attorney General’s findings respecting Mr. David are relevant to the record of this Senate hearing, at which the potential adverse impacts of the Equality Act on women and girls were an important aspect of our hearing discussion,” he said. “It is highly concerning that Mr. David, who purports to speak for victims of discrimination and retaliation, reportedly played some role in retaliation against a female victim of sexual harassment.”
Here’s a copy of Grassley’s letter:
Grassley is no fan of the Equality Act. His effort to discredit David is likely driven by a desire to see the bill go down at a time when Democrats control all of government and have a shot of passing it into law.
But the Republican senator could cause real problems for LGBTQ rights groups trying to push the landmark legislation through.
The Human Rights Campaign is the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, and until David is completely cleared of any wrongdoing in Cuomo’s scandal, Grassley and other GOP senators could continue to question his and HRC’s credibility as they lobby for protecting queer people against harassment and discrimination. It’s already unclear if the bill can pass in the Senate, where it needs 60 votes to advance. There are only 50 Democrats.
The Human Rights Campaign announced Monday that it hired a law firm to conduct its own investigation into whether David inappropriately helped Cuomo push back against sexual harassment allegations. The group expects its probe to be finished within 30 days.
It’s not clear if Grassley’s letter will make it into the record for the Equality Act hearing. Typically, the record for a Senate hearing closes 10 days after the hearing is done, which means this letter is far past that deadline. But the record can be reopened.
A Grassley spokesperson said his understanding was that Durbin did agree to include it in the record but said the record wouldn’t be finalized for months.
A Durbin spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
A Human Rights Campaign spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Grassley’s letter.
David publicly called for Cuomo’s resignation shortly after the New York attorney general’s report came out last week. And during a conference call the next day with Human Rights Campaign staff, David said he didn’t know about the harassment allegations against Cuomo until the report was released.
“I read the report word for word, and it left me sickened to my stomach,” he said on the call. “There’s nowhere in the report where it says that I was aware of any of these allegations.”
But several HRC employees spent the call berating their president over the report’s findings that tie him to Cuomo’s attempts to smear his accusers and publicly redeem himself. Some called on him to resign.
The report states, for example, that David provided a confidential file to Cuomo’s top aides, which they used to try to discredit one of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan. The former Cuomo staffer has accused the governor of sexual harassment, including an unsolicited kiss in his office and an invitation to play strip poker on a government airplane.
The report also states that David was involved in discussions about calling and secretly recording a conversation between a former Cuomo staffer and another Cuomo accuser named Kaitlin, who has not provided her last name. Kaitlin claims that in 2016 the governor grabbed her at a fundraiser and put her into a dance pose for photographers, and then two days later had his staff reach out to her to offer her a job.
According to the report, David also initially declined to sign on to a letter aimed at discrediting Boylan and attacking her claims as political but later told a Cuomo aide he would sign the letter “if we need him.” He also agreed to reach out to women who previously worked for Cuomo to try to get them to sign on to a statement saying positive things about the governor, according to the report.
David was serving as president of HRC at the time of these incidents.
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