One of President Joe Biden's most trusted advisers is under fire amid revelations that she helped guide former Illinois House speaker Michael Madigan (D.) through a sexual harassment scandal while her firm was working with a #MeToo advocacy group representing one of Madigan's accusers.
Anita Dunn, who has been described as Biden's "brawler-in-chief," in 2018 and 2019 helped Madigan to respond to allegations that he retaliated against campaign staffer Alaina Hampton, who accused a top Madigan aide of sexual harassment. Hampton claimed she was blacklisted from working on other political campaigns after filing the complaint. Madigan's campaign paid $200,000 to Dunn's firm, SKDK, to respond to allegations from the lawsuit, according to NPR. At the same time, Madigan's accuser was working with SKDK and a legal defense fund bankrolled by Time's Up, an advocacy group for victims of sexual harassment.
It's the latest example of Dunn, considered a feminist icon in Washington, quietly working for politically connected clients accused of sexual misconduct. In 2017, Dunn was revealed to have advised disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein after several actresses accused him of rape.
In addition to Dunn's work for the Biden administration, her husband, Bob Bauer, is a personal attorney for the president. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
"Betrayal" is how Hampton in an interview with NPR described Dunn's actions.
"I don't know Anita Dunn, and I hope I never will," Hampton said. "But I would question her on her values and integrity, and I would ask her how she can credibly claim her commitment to women's rights and issues."
While it is unclear exactly what services Dunn provided Madigan, emails obtained by NPR indicate she provided advice for an op-ed that Madigan wrote in September 2018 for the Chicago Tribune. The then-speaker wrote that he should have "acted sooner" to address sexual harassment allegations at his office.
The case also calls the advocacy work of SKDK and Time's Up Legal Defense into question. SKDK, which Dunn cofounded in 2004, acknowledged that its work for Madigan "was an error" given its simultaneous representation of Hampton.
"We apologize to Ms. Hampton and her allies and reiterate our full support for the survivor community," the firm said.
While Time's Up expressed "frustration" that Dunn and SKDK worked on both sides of the Hampton lawsuit, the advocacy group has also faced conflict-of-interest concerns. Time's Up's cofounders resigned in 2021 after revelations they advised former New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.) after several aides accused him of sexual harassment.