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Ethics report criticizes Esty lapses but recommends no further action

December 21, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON — A long-awaited House Ethics Committee report on Rep. Elizabeth Esty and her handling of a former chief of staff accused of sexual abuse found although many of her actions were “ill advised,” the matter should be closed with “no further action.”

The report, undertaken at Esty’s request in April after Hearst Connecticut Media and other outlets reported on her easing the chief of staff, Tony Baker, out of her office and giving him a job recommendation, found Esty committed several errors in judgment.

Among them are commissioning two former staffers to investigate Baker’s conduct; allowing Baker to carry out his duties at full pay while the former staffers investigated, and agreeing to a $5,041 lump-sum severance payment and positive job reference.

“While Representative Esty could have better handled the investigation of Mr. Baker’s behavior, the Committee found that Representative Esty’s response to allegations of Mr. Baker’s misconduct warrants no further action,” said the report of the committee, whose chairman, Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., was a friend and occasional ally of Esty on bipartisan legislation.

Punishments for ethical violations include reprimands, censure and expulsion — with a vote of two-thirds of House members.

Esty said in a statement late Thursday she was “gratified” the Ethics Committee probe concluded she had not violated any House rules or standard of conduct.

But, she added, “I would do things differently if confronted with a similar situation now.”

After news broke of her lapses regarding Baker, Esty announced she would not seek re-election this year.

With just two weeks to go before her departure from Congress, Esty arguably has paid a high price. A once-promising career on Capitol Hill lay in tatters after the revelation, with no prominent Democrats in Connecticut willing to stand beside her as she offered public mea culpas.

The 38-page report recounts in often-excruciating detail how Baker abused and intimidated a female employee identified as “Former Staffer A” — Anna Kain, who allowed herself to be identified after the story broke on March 29 of this year.

Baker and Kain were romantically involved in 2013, soon after Esty arrived in Washington after winning her first term in the 2012 election. They broke it off mutually, but Baker subsequently became chief of staff and, in effect, Kain’s boss.

Kain, who earned a promotion, attempted to engage Baker in a discussion on increasing her responsibilities in the office. After listening, Baker asked her to have sex on a desk. She declined, but asked if Baker’s request was related to her asking for more responsibilities.

“Mr. Baker replied that it was not related to her request but ‘obviously it would help,’” the report stated.

Baker’s downfall began in May 2016, after Kain had left the office, when they encountered each other at a happy hour office gathering at a Capitol Hill bar. Baker became intoxicated to the point of blacking out, and later left profanity-laced voicemail messages on Kain’s phone threatening to kill her.

What followed was a lengthy investigation of Baker’s actions that concluded with a report to Esty on July 20, 2016. Despite the report’s damning conclusions, Esty left Baker on the payroll until early August — enough time for him to accompany her and other staffers to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia that year.

Esty ironed out the termination agreement with Baker on Aug. 5, and announced to the staff on Aug. 8 that Baker would be leaving to return to his native Ohio. She said little about the circumstances of his departure, the report said.

Esty told the committee she had relied on advice from the House employment counsel’s office.

But, the report said, she “acknowledged that there were several ways in which she did not engage in ‘best practices,’ which she now, with the benefit of hindsight and a greater understanding of sexual harassment in the workplace, wishes she had handled differently.”

The report noted there was no practical guidance for House members confronting such a situation.

It listed several actions members should take going forward.

Among them: Take swift action to uncover the truth, limit the accused staffer’s interaction with others in the office while an investigation takes place, and remove the employee if the individual’s “behavior put the safety or well-being of those in the office at risk.”

The committee stated, “No severance payments should be made to employees who are discharged due to their own unethical conduct.”