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Kirsten Gillibrand defends handling of sexual harassment allegations

Gillibrand defends handling of harassment claim

Potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is defending her office's handling of claims of sexual harassment by a staffer, stating that her Senate office took the allegation seriously "every step" of the way. 

Politico first reported a young female aide to Gillibrand resigned last summer in protest over the handling of her sexual harassment claim by Gillibrand's office. The staffer alleged that one of Gillibrand's longtime male aides repeatedly made unwelcome advances toward her. The female aide resigned less than three weeks after reporting the alleged harassment. 

"These are challenges that affect all of our nation's workplaces, including mine, and the question is whether or not they are taken seriously. As I have long said, when allegations are made in the workplace, we must believe women so that serious investigations can actually take place, we can learn the facts, and there can be appropriate accountability. That's exactly what happened at every step of this case last year. I told her that we loved her at the time, and the same is true today," Gillibrand said in a statement Monday morning.  

On Monday afternoon, Gillibrand again defended the way her office investigated her former staff member's allegation, telling reporters outside the Capitol that she and her staff "take these allegations very seriously."

During the rise of the #MeToo movement last year, Gillibrand emerged as one of the political leaders of the campaign in the Capitol. She was the first Democratic senator to call for fellow Democrat Al Franken to step down when he faced sexual misconduct allegations and has said President Bill Clinton should have resigned over the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She has fought to end sexual violence in the military and has persistently urged Congress to change the way it deals with its own harassment complaints.

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Gillibrand's communication director Whitney Mitchell Brennan meanwhile explained in a statement to CBS that the allegation in question was investigated in consultation with Senate Employment Counsel, and included multiple interviews with "relevant current employees who could potentially corroborate the claims."

"A full and thorough investigation into the evidence revealed employee misconduct that, while inappropriate, did not meet the standard for sexual harassment. However, because the office did find unprofessional behavior that violated office policy, including derogatory comments, the office took strong disciplinary action against the employee in question, and he was given a final warning," Brennan added. 

But Politico reached out to more than 20 former Gillibrand staffers and reportedly found more allegations of inappropriate behavior by the same aide. Brennan said that in light of "never-before reported and deeply troubling comments" allegedly made by the aide, the office terminated his employment last week. 

Gillibrand, who is still in the exploratory phase of the already jam-packed Democratic presidential primary race, previously told CBS News she's the "best candidate" to take on President Trump in 2020. 

Alan He contributed to this report.