Garcetti former chief spox to prosecutors: Charge Biden ambassador pick with perjury

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Old and busted: Eric Garcetti holding his breath. New hotness: The White House holding theirs. The former spokesperson of the current mayor of Los Angeles and future US ambassador to India has lodged formal complaints with prosecutors on every level, accusing Garcetti of perjury in a sexual-harassment scandal:

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s onetime chief spokeswoman has filed a complaint with local, state and federal prosecutors, demanding that he be prosecuted for perjury for repeatedly denying that he knew about another former aide’s alleged sexual misconduct.

A nonprofit law firm sent a 31-page letter on behalf of Naomi Seligman to the U.S. Department of Justice, the California attorney general’s office and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón last week, accusing Garcetti of lying and conspiring with top staffers to cover up multiple accusations of sexual harassment against Rick Jacobs, the mayor’s former deputy chief of staff.

Seligman’s not just sending this complaint to prosecutors either, which we’ll get back to momentarily. If the scandal slipped your memories, catch up with it in this post from a couple of months ago. While the Los Angeles media slept on the Rick Jacobs sexual-harassment scandal and focused on In-n-Out instead (rimshot!), New York Magazine scooped them:

Seligman’s team had just returned to her office in City Hall for a debriefing when her boss, the political consultant Rick Jacobs — Garcetti’s deputy chief of staff — burst into the room. Seligman speaks with the poised, hyperefficient cadence of a veteran comms strategist, but she winces when she describes what happened next. “He crushes me against his body, pulling me in with all his strength,” she says now, telling her story publicly for the first time. “I’m like a rag doll. He’s pulling me into him and kisses me on the lips for some long, uncomfortable period of time. He kisses me on the lips. I’m trying to push back, but he has my arms pinned down against the sides of my body so I have no leverage to push back.”

Jacobs eventually let go of Seligman, congratulated the staff on Garcetti’s speech, and walked out the door. “I’m surrounded by my entire team, and they’ve seen this act of dominance over me,” she recalls. “I felt humiliated.” Seligman went to find Ana Guerrero, Garcetti’s then–chief of staff, who was senior to Jacobs, at least on paper. “I walked into her office and looked at her and said, ‘I can’t believe what just happened. Rick just kissed me in front of my staff.’ And she just rolled her eyes. Like it was an annoyance,” Seligman says. “She wouldn’t talk about it. She didn’t even want to say, ‘I’m sorry it happened to you.’ The only thing she said was that there’s nothing we can do about him.”

For the past decade, those who experienced or witnessed Jacobs’s alleged harassment say this has been the line delivered behind closed doors to them by the Garcetti administration: Yes, we know about Rick, but he’s the mayor’s friend and there’s nothing we can do. Earlier this year, in a lawsuit brought against the city over Jacobs’s behavior, Garcetti testified under oath that he knew nothing about multiple allegations leveled against the man he once called a “dear friend, as well as one of my most trusted advisers.” Now, however, four people who worked closely with Garcetti and Jacobs are speaking publicly for the first time, saying the mayor was fully aware of Jacobs’s behavior. Despite alleged harassment so rampant it was called an open secret, some of which Garcetti allegedly witnessed, Jacobs kept his job at City Hall and later became Garcetti’s most influential strategist, laying the groundwork for a White House run, orchestrating off-the-schedule meetings, and traveling around the world with the mayor.

Oddly — or not — national media appeared just as disinterested in this scandal as Los Angeles media did at the time. Joe Biden picked Garcetti for the diplomatic post last summer, but NY Mag’s detailed and scorching report made almost no impact. Two weeks later, the New York Times reported on Garcetti’s denial of knowledge about sexual-harassment allegations during his confirmation hearing, calling it a “mild exchange”:

To cut to the chase, Garcetti denied knowing that a Los Angeles police officer on his security detail had complained of sexual harassment by a top aide.

Responding to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, the mayor said he “never witnessed” the alleged harassment, “nor was it brought to my attention.” If it had been, he added, he would have acted to stop it, saying that opposition to workplace abuses was “a core issue” for him.

The mild exchange capped months of speculation over whether Los Angeles’s current wave of City Hall scandal would cost Garcetti a long-sought place in the Biden administration. Garcetti, who joined Biden’s inner circle after ending his own presidential bid in 2020, had at one point appeared to be in contention for a cabinet post.

That’s the testimony in which Seligman claims Garcetti perjured himself. So far, though, no one’s bothered to ask questions about it. In case you’re wondering about Garcetti’s nomination, it’s ready for a floor vote by the full Senate. Garcetti’s nomination made it out of committee in the second week of January, even after yet another brush with scandal:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday to be President Biden’s ambassador to India — months after Garcetti controversially attended first son Hunter Biden’s Hollywood art show.

The Garcetti pick was voted out of committee along with a larger batch of nominees and now goes before the full Senate.

Biden nominated Garcetti, 50, in July. He drew negative headlines in October after promoting the novice art career of Biden’s son, which ethics experts have slammed as a possible vehicle for influence-peddling.

Reporters pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki at the time about whether Garcetti’s attendance at the art show validated concerns that the first son’s new career would create conflicts of interest with his dad’s job.

Seligman isn’t going away quietly, even if few media outlets or senators want to discuss it. Not only did Seligman’s attorneys file complaints with prosecutors, they also have involved California regulators — and at least a majority of the current Senate:

The allegations were forwarded to more than half the members of the Senate, said Seligman’s lawyers, who also filed the complaints with the California State Personnel Board, the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and the California State Auditor’s Office, under provisions of the state’s whistleblower protection law.

“Senators should be outraged that someone nominated to represent our country in a key diplomatic post would lie to their faces so brazenly,” Seligman said in a statement. “It’s time for them to take a serious look at the evidence that I and others have presented and live up to the commitment that many of them have made to protect victims of predatory behavior in the workplace.”

Garcetti’s (new) spokespeople insist that there’s nothing new with these complaints. They still deny that Garcetti knew anything prior to Seligman’s complaint in July 2020, and that any allegation otherwise is entirely false.

The Los Angeles Times also explains why prosecution is likely a long shot:

The standards for filing a felony perjury charge are extremely exacting, making it unlikely that prosecutors would lodge a case against Garcetti, said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and expert on criminal law and procedure. The attempt to block Garcetti’s ambassadorial appointment would also tend to make prosecutors shy away from a case that seems more suited to a political resolution, Levenson said.

“It’s an uphill battle for them to charge perjury,” Levenson said. “It may or may not be that he lied, but proving that beyond a reasonable doubt is another matter.”

Absent documentary evidence that proves Garcetti knew of the situation, prosecution is unlikely. But that doesn’t make it politically safe for senators to blithely confirm Garcetti either, of course, especially those who made a big show of “believe all women” three-plus years ago. That’s clearly why Seligman and her attorneys have decided on a full-court legal press — to derail Garcetti’s appointment politically and force him to stay in Los Angeles to be held accountable.

Frankly, one has to wonder how long the White House wants to cling to Garcetti, too. They’re already having trouble with women voters, and the last thing they need is a #MeToo scandal. Thus far, Garcetti and Biden have gotten a very suspicious amount of cover from the national media. If that ends, so may Garcetti’s diplomatic ambitions.