Though the Senate Judiciary Committee does not have jurisdiction over Garcetti’s nomination, Grassley’s office does have staff dedicated to oversight and investigations work. A senior staffer for the committee said other senators have deferred it to him for that reason.
“We were connected with one whistleblower, and since our initial conversations, we’ve been able to learn more from additional sources which seem to corroborate that the mayor was aware of this activity,” the Grassley aide told POLITICO.
In his letter to McConnell, Grassley said his office had spoken with individuals who “have not previously spoken to the Foreign Relations Committee, and are presenting new allegations that must be fully investigated.” The Foreign Relations Committee voted in January to advance Garcetti’s nomination. He now awaits a vote before the full Senate.
In his letter, Grassley acknowledged that there had been an independent investigation into the matter, but he questioned how thorough it was.
Garcetti’s office said they were looking into the matter but did not comment. In a statement on Thursday, the White House reiterated its support for Garcetti, echoing earlier statements about the allegations.
“Mayor Garcetti has been clear that he takes any allegations of harassment very seriously and has made clear this type of misconduct is unacceptable in his office in any form. He has also said that he never witnessed this behavior nor was told about it prior to the litigation,” the statement reads. “The president has confidence in Mayor Garcetti and believes he’ll be an excellent representative in India.”
Garcetti, a Democrat in his final year as mayor, was an early supporter of Biden’s 2020 run, and went on to serve as campaign co-chair, helping raise money and vet vice presidential nominees. He has repeatedly denied that he knew about Jacobs’ alleged behavior, including during his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in December. The lone question about the claims came from Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), and there were no follow-ups.
“I want to say unequivocally that I never witnessed, nor was it brought to my attention, the behavior that’s been alleged,” Garcetti told Senate committee members. “And I also want to assure you if it had been, I would have immediately taken action to stop that.”
Since last year, former Garcetti aides, including a top spokeswoman in his office, Naomi Seligman, have been urging Senate offices on both sides of the aisle to take a closer look at the evidence that casts doubt on his denials. Seligman, herself an alleged victim of Jacobs, enlisted the help of the nonprofit outfit Whistleblower Aid to file a perjury complaint against Garcetti and has called on Biden to rescind his nomination.
Garcetti “enabled this repeated pattern of sexual harassment of abuse,” Seligman, a longtime progressive and Democratic operative, said in a telephone interview. “But he also fostered a culture of denial, intimidation and silence and then he retaliated against those who spoke out and worked with his staff to cover everything up.”
“I appreciate the seriousness with which Senator Grassley has approached this important issue,” she said.
“Often, enablers get a pass,” she said. “Powerful enablers are the reason that so many are victimized, and that’s why I’m doing this.”
Grassley’s request to hold the Garcetti nomination comes at a delicate time in U.S.-India relations. Indian officials have refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine and abstained from United Nations resolutions demanding he halt his brutal attack — positions that stand in stark contrast to the U.S and European allies who have rallied against the Russian leader.
But the allegations against Jacobs — and how knowledgeable Garcetti was of them — also have the potential to complicate Biden’s domestic agenda. This month, the president held a signing ceremony for a bill to end forced arbitration for workers who are victims of sexual assault and harassment, calling it “a momentous day for justice and fairness in the workplace.”
Asked last month about Seligman’s complaint against Garcetti and whether Biden was standing by him, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the president had no plans to rescind any of his nominations. Psaki directed other questions on the matter to the mayor’s office.
Garcetti appeared at his original hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, along with the nominees to serve as the ambassadors to Germany and Pakistan. The committee advanced the nominations in January. But while the full Senate then confirmed the ambassadors to Germany and Pakistan in February and March, respectively, Garcetti’s nomination has not received a vote.
Senate Democrats can confirm Garcetti without GOP support provided they have all 50 members in attendance as well as Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote. But if Grassley delays the vote, it would use up valuable floor time.
The allegations against Jacobs have shadowed Garcetti and dimmed his once-bright political star since a Los Angeles Police Department officer who served on the mayor’s security detail filed a lawsuit two years ago claiming that not only did Garcetti witness Jacobs’ behavior, but that he refused to step in to stop it.
That filing from that officer, Matthew Garza, against the city of Los Angeles in July 2020 included allegations of crude and unwanted sexual comments and touching by Jacobs that he claims went on for years. It alleges that Garcetti laughed at Jacobs’ crude comments.
In addition to Garza and Seligman, other accusers have since come forward to talk about Jacobs’ alleged widespread sexual harassment and abuse — punctuated by a photograph of Jacobs making a provocative gesture over the genital area of another man — with Garcetti pictured among the group.
Jeremy Bernard, a social secretary in the Obama White House who once led Garcetti’s Mayor’s Fund nonprofit co-founded with Jacobs, has cast doubt on the idea that the mayor was unaware of Jacobs’ conduct. He testified that, in 2017, Garcetti had said something to the effect of, “I can’t believe Rick worked out at City Hall and that we got through it without a lawsuit,” and that he had heard others claim they heard the same.
But Bernard also said in his deposition that he never witnessed Jacobs – whom he considered a close friend — act inappropriately at fundraisers or social settings.
Suzi Emmerling, another former Garcetti aide, said in a deposition in the Garza case that the mayor’s then-chief of staff, Ana Guerrero, told her that the mayor knew “how bad Rick is.” Emmerling further testified that a number of other people spoke with her about how they’d been harassed by Jacobs or witnessed his behavior — including an unnamed “prominent journalist” who relayed to her that Jacobs was “doing all of these things right in front of the mayor” and that they “had never seen a staffer behave that way in front of a principal.”
Reached by phone, Emmerling confirmed she has also spoken to Grassley’s staff.