Washington – Rep. Elizabeth Esty apologized to current and former staffers Thursday for failing to notice that her former chief of staff, Tony Baker, had been abusive to her staffers and for failing to take swifter action in firing him.
“It’s awful and I feel terrible for everyone who was hurt,” said Esty, D-5th District.
Baker was fired in August of 2016, three months after Esty became aware of complaints about Baker from Julie Sweet, who had preceded Baker as chief of staff.
Esty said Sweet contacted her after a Cinco de Mayo party her staffers attended on Capitol Hill in 2016. Sweet told Esty she had heard a number of reports about Baker’s behavior. Those included an allegation by Anna Kain, a former staffer who had had a relationship with Baker, that he had left about 50 messages and texts on her phone the night of the party.
A phone call to Baker seeking comment was not returned.
The Washington Post reported that one message left by Baker for Kain on May 5, 2016 said “You better f—–g reply to me or I will f—–g kill you,”
Kain, who provided a copy of the recording to The Washington Post, alerted the police, filed a report for felony threats and obtained a 12-month restraining order against Baker.
Esty said The Washington Post had been working on the story for some time, but it was Hearst Media who first published the allegations against Baker Thursday.
The day after the Cinco de Mayo party, Esty said she called Baker into her office and suggested he receive counseling, or help with alcohol addiction.
Esty also said she contacted the House general counsel on how to conduct an investigation and launched a probe of Baker’s behavior, interviewing every staffer in Washington, D.C., and her district offices, as well as some former employees.
At the end of her investigation in July, Esty determined “there was a pattern of verbally abusive behavior” and that the staffer who had dated Baker confirmed an account of physical abuse.
Esty said she dismissed Baker from her staff soon after, giving him $5,000 in severance pay. Esty said she will write a personal check in that amount to the U.S. Treasury to compensate taxpayers.
She also said she urged Baker to return to his native Ohio, where “he had family to support him.”
At the direction of the House employment counsel, Esty also signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevented her from disparaging Baker or discussing why he left.
After leaving Esty’s office, Baker worked for Sandy Hook Promise.
Stephanie Morris, a spokeswoman for the group, said Baker is not employed there, but she did not respond to questions about when he left the organization.
Esty said that “in hindsight,” she should have acted sooner and suspended Baker the day after the Cinco de Mayo story.
“The whole process took too long,” she said.
Esty said she was totally unaware of Baker’s behavior because, until Sweet brought it to her attention, no one else had.
“I thought I was accessible, I thought people could talk to me,” she said.
Esty said the #metoo movement prompted Kain to tell her story.
After a number of disclosures about sexual abuse and harassment on Capitol Hill, the U.S. House last month approved a bill aimed at reforming the way sexual misconduct allegations are handled. The Senate has not taken up the legislation.
Esty said even more must be done to protect victims of abuse in the U.S. Capitol.
She said the current system, in which each office determines its own employee policies, make no sense.
“There’s no HR department, no standard employee handbook,” Esty said. “We need a standard employee policy.”