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Report: Kihuen campaign staffer quit over repeated harassment, sexual advances

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U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., speaks to News 3 on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (KSNV)

A Democratic campaign official has called for Nevada lawmaker Rep. Ruben Kihuen to resign following a report that a woman who worked as the finance director for his campaign quit her job because he repeatedly harassed her and made sexual advances toward her.

Buzzfeed News is reporting that the then 25-year-old woman did not know what to do with her complaint and didn’t feel comfortable bringing it to the campaign’s leadership.

Samantha, whose last name BuzzFeed News is withholding at her request, began working for Kihuen early in his campaign to unseat Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy in December 2015 and quit by April 7, 2016. Starting in February of that year Samantha said Kihuen, who was then 35 and competing in the primary race, propositioned her for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections. On two occasions, she says he touched her thighs without consent.

While Samantha was uncertain how she could report her experience, she said she spoke with a contact at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to explain why she was quitting so abruptly and told the staffer that Kihuen had done things that made her uncomfortable.

“I didn’t know what they could do, but I felt like I had to let someone know,” she said.

The person she spoke with at the DCCC, a mid-level staffer who no longer works there, confirmed a conversation took place. He said he did not recall her telling him any specifics — only that she quit because she felt uncomfortable with Kihuen and he did not believe that she wanted the DCCC to escalate it. He spoke only with a colleague — another mid-level staffer who is also no longer there — about the call.

On Friday, Kihuen released the following statement in response to the article on Buzzfeed News:

“The staff member in question was a valued member of my team. I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable. I take this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am, but I want to make it clear that I don’t recall any of the circumstances she described. I was raised in a strong family that taught me to treat women with the utmost dignity and respect. I have spent my fifteen years in public service fighting for women’s equality, and I will continue to do so.”

A staffer in Kihuen’s congressional office did not respond to a follow-up question if Kihuen denied that the events she described occurred.

When presented with specific details of these allegations contained in this story, DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján called on Kihuen to resign.

"Members and candidates must be held to the highest standard. If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, they should not hold elected office. Congressman Kihuen should resign,” Luján said on Friday. "I believe Samantha and wish I had known her specific allegations when I confronted Ruben after she left the campaign or in time to stop what took place."

On Feb. 6, 2016, Samantha says she accompanied Kihuen to a fundraiser — a normal function of her job as finance director. As she attempted to leave when the event wrapped up, she says Kihuen walked her to her car.

“He followed me to my car and said, ‘You look really good, I'd like to take you out if you didn’t work for me,’” she recalled.

Samantha said she quickly stated that she had a boyfriend, got in her car, and left. The advances became more frequent and more aggressive after that, asking if she had ever “cheated on her boyfriend” and repeating that he would take her out if she did not work for him.

On Feb. 19, Samantha says she accompanied Kihuen to a meeting with Rep. Tony Cardenas at the Aria Hotel. Cardenas was in town to support presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ahead of the Nevada caucuses. Cardenas’ office confirmed that he and his wife stayed in the hotel that weekend. In the elevator on the way to the meeting, Samantha said Kihuen told her, “We should get a hotel room here.”

“I said ‘no’ very firmly and he just laughed at me. It was humiliating,” she told BuzzFeed News.

Kihuen drove on the way back from the meeting to their campaign office, with Samantha in the passenger seat. Samantha said Kihuen again asked if she’d ever cheated on her boyfriend, and started touching her thigh. She told him to stop and said she said “no” and began talking about her boyfriend.

A separate time in March, Kihuen asked for help with something on the computer during “call time” — when a candidate makes fundraising calls — and Samantha alleges he grabbed the back of her thigh while she looked at the screen.

“I asked him what he was doing and he stopped,” she said.

Samantha left the campaign soon after.

The DCCC requires all its staffers to take an “extensive and multi-hour” sexual harassment training — and did in 2016 as well — and they encourage campaigns to take any complaints very seriously. They do offer resources to help create codes of conduct and sexual harassment policies but ultimately, every campaign makes its own rules. However, this cycle, the DCCC will require all campaigns and candidates they work with to establish a sexual harassment policy and take sexual harassment training if they want to receive financial and structural support from the committee.

According to the Associated Press, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen should resign amid sexual misconduct allegation.

Rep. Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District released the following statement to address news reports published about Rep. Kihuen:

"This is very disappointing. Many believed Ruben had great potential, but unfortunately, his personal behavior has jeopardized his political career. This culture of sexual harassment must end. Zero tolerance means zero tolerance. Ruben needs to step up and do what's right for the people of Nevada."

Rep. Jacky Rosen released the following statement about Rep. Kihuen reported allegations:

Congressman Kihuen is my friend, but this report about his actions is troubling and deeply disappointing. I'm heartbroken by the outpouring of stories about the workplace harassment so many women have faced. There should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment anywhere, and I will always stand with the women coming forward to share their experiences and tell their stories. Credible allegations of sexual misconduct against any member of Congress, regardless of party or seniority, should result in serious consequences. The culture where this behavior is brushed aside has gone on for too long, and I believe Congressman Kihuen should step aside.