Dem Candidate Responds to Sexual Harassment Allegations: Dem Opponent Is 'Pushing This Falsehood'

Gabby Giffords (Left) and Gil Cisneros (Right) / Twitter Screenshot

California Democratic congressional candidate Gil Cisneros pushed back Friday against sexual harassment allegations waged against him a day earlier by Melissa Fazli, a Democratic candidate for California Assembly District 55.

Cisneros, a candidate for Congress in the state's 39th Congressional District, tweeted out a statement from his campaign spokesperson Orrin Evans accusing Fazli of being a "surrogate" of Andy Thorburn, one of his Democratic opponents in the 39th. The statement said Fazli was making "false allegations" about Cisneros' behavior a couple months ago at the California Democratic Party Convention.

Shortly after Cisneros tweeted out a statement, Fazli pushed back and said she was "not a surrogate" of  Thorburn. In her tweet, she included a screenshot of a message from an individual claiming Cisneros was "very drunk" and that they had allegedly spoken to him at Rep. Tony Cardenas' (D., Calif.) party at the Democratic State Convention. She went on to ask why Cisneros' statement didn't address another accusation she made about a phone call between them.

Three of Cisneros' Democratic opponents, including Thornburn, released a joint statement Thursday night saying Fazli's accusations "can't be ignored" and that they want him to "address this issue immediately."

The harassment allegations surfaced Thursday when Fazli tweeted out a press release in which she recalled an alleged encounter she had with Cisneros by an elevator after a party hosted by Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) at the convention. She said Cisneros appeared to be intoxicated and after she asked for campaign contributions and they talked about the party, she said Cisneros asked, "Should we go back to your room?"

Fazli alleged the harassment continued when she called to ask for donations again about a week after the first alleged incident:

He then asked me "well what are you going to do for me?" I went into this whole spiel about my ground game hoping to impress him that I would be a very active candidate. Then he interrupted me and in a different tone and slowly said "no Melissa. I mean what are you going to do for me?"

Now this can be interpreted two ways. Either he wants me to be his spy or he wants me to have sex with him. After the encounter at the elevator in San Diego, I thought he wanted to have sex with me in exchange for a $4400 donation. Either way he wanted pay for play; a [quid] pro quo.

Cisneros was added about two weeks ago to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's highly competitive "Red to Blue" program. The program chooses Democratic candidates it deems will be competitive in a general election and is ultimately aimed at unseating Republican lawmakers in districts across the country. As of publication, Cisneros was still listed on the website.

The harassment allegations were not the first subject over which Cisneros and Thornburn have butted heads. A week prior, Thornburn claimed Cisneros left a threatening voicemail on his wife’s phone. "By the end of [last] Friday, the dust-up had led to legal action, accusations of fraud and one candidate comparing the other to President Trump," the Washington Post reported.

The voice mail, first reported by the Intercept, is just a few seconds long. In it, a man identifies himself as Cisneros, a candidate in California’s 39th Congressional District, and informs Thorburn that "I’m gonna go negative on you."

"The voice on that recording is not Gil Cisneros, plain and simple," said Cisneros spokesman Orrin Evans. "The Intercept’s ‘story’ about a voice mail — apparently provided to them by the Thorburn campaign — is completely false and manufactured. The Intercept posted the fabricated voice mail without even playing the recording for the Cisneros campaign to verify his voice, and took no steps to authenticate the recording prior to its release."

Karen Thornburn, the candidate's wife, meanwhile explained her version of events in a statement: "When I got home one evening, I checked our voice mail and heard this. I’ve heard Gil speak at a lot of forums and it sounded like him to me! I thought it was bizarre so I notified the campaign staff."

Six Democrats, along with five Republicans, are running in the June 5 primary in hopes to vie for the seat left open after Rep. Ed Royce (R.) announced in January he would not seek reelection.  Polls released by the Cisneros campaign have shown him leading the Democratic field with just 19 percent of the overall vote.