Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) continued to defend her office's handling of a sexual harassment complaint made by a staffer against one of her senior aides last year, saying Friday it didn't find harassment in its investigation.
Gillibrand's office ultimately dismissed the aide, Abbas Malik. It only did so, however, after Politico investigated and presented more evidence of misconduct in a report published last week.
Gillibrand, one of the most prominent voices in Congress on battling sexual harassment in the workplace and military, is facing criticism from the staffer that she was "belittled" by her office after she came forward.
"We took these allegations very seriously," Gillibrand said on Friday. "We opened an investigation immediately, and we did a thorough investigation. We did not find sexual harassment, but we did find derogatory comments, and the employee was punished for those derogatory comments."
"But we took it very seriously, and this particular employee is valued. She is loved in our office, and I told her so personally," she added.
Politico first reported on the complaint made against Malik, who had served under Gillibrand since 2011 as a driver and later a military adviser. The staffer said Malik repeatedly made inappropriate remarks and unwanted advances toward her. Although she initially only reprimanded him, Gillibrand fired Malik earlier this month after Politico presented other complaints made against Malik by females in her office.
Gillibrand's office did not interview former employees about Malik's behavior during its investigation of the staffer's complaint, including ones the staffer urged higher-ups to contact, Politico's investigation found.
The staffer quit last year over how Gillibrand's office conducted the investigation, which concluded Malik's conduct didn't rise to the level of a fireable offense. In her resignation letter, the staffer described being told by Chief of Staff Jess Fassler after the investigation wrapped up that she could be fired at any time.
"Your office chose to go against your public belief that women shouldn't accept sexual harassment in any form and portrayed my experience as a misinterpretation instead of what it actually was: harassment and, ultimately, intimidation," she wrote in her resignation letter.
Gillibrand has formed a 2020 presidential exploratory committee, although she is barely registering in national or early-primary state polls in the crowded Democratic field.