WASHINGTON — In a round of interviews with reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday, U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty apologized again for mishandling the firing of Tony Baker, her former chief of staff who had abused her former scheduler, and she reaffirmed her decision to not seek re-election but remain in office through the end of her term.
Seated in her office inside the Cannon Legislative Office Building, Esty began an interview with the DC News Junkie offering an apology to her staff and to Anna Kain, the woman whom she described as the survivor of abuse.
“Most importantly, I am so terribly sorry for how decisions I made — the mistakes I made, coupled with a system that needs to change — hurts people I care about like Anna, and hurt other members of my staff. I’m deeply sorry and I would ask them to know I never intended that,” she said.
Esty gave similar interviews to a number of media outlets including Hearst, NBC and Fox. The first interviews since she announced last week that she would not seek re-election in 2018.
Esty says she will return campaign contributions to those who ask for a refund but has made no decision yet about what to do with the remaining funds. When she leaves office, Esty will be eligible for a federal pension, which vests after five years. She vested after her second term, having already worked a year as a federal lawyer.
She plans to remain in office to provide a voice to 5th District constituents on important issues that may come up in Congress in the next few months. If she quit, the office would remain vacant until a special election could be held — likely no sooner than August.
Esty also wants to advocate for “survivors” like Anna — pushing the Senate to agree to legislation the House already passed to require sexual harassment training for members of Congress and their staff.
“I would hope that I can help provide a literal seat at the table for survivors like Anna and for Congressional staffers who have gone through this – to talk not just about the law but what are some of the practical things we need to be doing to actually change things,” she said.
Esty has not spoken to Kain since news accounts two weeks ago reported that Baker remained on Esty’s staff for three months after she first learned in 2016 that he had verbally abused and threatened Kain. His departure also came with a $5,000 severance fee, a non-disclosure agreement and a letter of recommendation that landed him a job working for the Ohio chapter of Sandy Hook Promise.
“I feel like I lost that right to do that,” she said — to reach out to Kain — now that she has gone public with her #metoo story.
Esty did speak to Kain shortly after learning on May 9, 2016 that Baker had been abusive to Kain. She’d received more than 50 calls from him before he left a voicemail threatening to kill her.
“I confronted Tony and told him he needed to stop drinking immediately … and I called Anna,” she said. “I was really worried about her. I never heard the tapes but just the reports were terrifying and awful. And, I wanted to let her know I was going to try to help.”
Esty admits now to a series of bad decisions on her part — among the worst was signing a non-disclosure agreement and agreeing to provide him with a letter of reference. Esty says she offered the latter as a way to get him away from Washington saying that with his experience he most likely would have landed another job on the Hill with or without her endorsement.
“If I’d been a real hero I would have trusted my gut instincts in August of 2016,” and objected to signing the non-disclosure agreement,” she said. “It bothered me … protecting the perpetrator.”
Esty signed it, convincing herself that at that time Kain also wanted the abuse to remain private. Female staffers who have come forward, she says, have been blackballed from getting work on the Hill.