Politico reported Wednesday evening that Robert Becker, a top 2016 campaign advisor for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), forcibly kissed a female staffer shortly after the Democratic National Convention.
Becker, now 50, told the woman he’d always wanted to have sex with her, she and three other witnesses told Politico.
They said that later that evening, “Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her.”
At the time the woman, who was in her 20s and wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, chose not to report the incident because the campaign was over.
She chose to speak out after Becker reportedly contacted her and other potential staffers regarding a 2020 presidential run by Sanders and visited early primary states.
The woman said she informed Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager Jeff Weaver of the alleged assault.
“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn't earn the highest office in our government,” she said in a statement.
“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with,” she added. “This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”
Becker denied the allegations saying they were “at odds with my recollection of a late evening filled with many hugs and kisses and tears and conversations about what’s next.”
Weaver told Politico that “without getting into the specifics of an incident where the woman involved has not given me express permission to speak, I only became aware recently.” He said he considered the allegation to be credible.
Friends of Bernie Sanders, the senator’s principal campaign committee, told Politico in a statement that “Robert Becker would not be a part of any future campaigns.” They added: “To be clear: no one who committed sexual harassment in 2016 would be back if there were a 2020 campaign." They called Becker’s alleged behavior “deplorable and fundamentally unacceptable.”
Politico also reported that over a half-dozen staffers who worked with Becker on the 2016 campaign said there was “a pattern of other inappropriate behavior or poor management.”
Two aides said Becker would look up potential female hires on Facebook to appraise their looks and would occasionally call over other male staffers to join him.
“During the process of routine background checks being conducted, I would occasionally be asked to review potentially questionable or damaging social media posts of potential hires,” Becker said in reply to that allegation. “My singular concern during this entire process was to assess whether an individual would be an outstanding political organizer—no other factors played into our hiring decisions.”
Allegations of sexual harassment on the 2016 Sanders campaign have been an issue for the potential 2020 candidate in recent weeks. A recent report by the New York Times recounts further allegations made by female campaign staffers against some of their male colleagues.
Sen. Sanders addressed the allegations on CNN in a manner that some regarded as dismissive.
He apologized “to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately, and of course if I run, we will do better next time,” but went on to say that he was unaware of the allegations because he “was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.”
Some of the top advisers to Sanders told Politico that they’re working on a meeting between Sanders and those who signed a letter complaining of harassment on the 2016 campaign trail.
Sanders isn't the only potential Democratic 2020 candidate facing questions over sexual harassment that occurred among staff. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) had to address reports of a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against one of her staffers in 2016.
When asked about her lack of awareness of the incident, Harris said she took responsibility but added that there were "almost 5,000 people" working in her office at the time.