President Joe Biden nominated his political ally Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India, the White House said on Friday, setting up a tricky confirmation battle amid claims the Los Angeles mayor failed to act on sexual harassment allegations leveled at his adviser.
Garcetti, 50, was long seen as frontrunner for the post and, if confirmed, would be taking on one of the most difficult diplomatic jobs at a time when India remains in the grip of the coronavirus crisis.
But his nomination sets up tough Senate hearings. Republicans will have plenty of ammunition from a lawsuit alleging that Rick Jacobs, a former top staffer, sexually harassed one of the mayor’s police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored it or laughed it off.
Matthew Garza claimed Jacobs sexually harassed him on multiple occasions.
Garza, who spent some six years on the mayor’s security detail, said Garcetti had witnessed Jacobs’ alleged harassment several times and failed to take any action to correct his behavior.
Joe Biden could face an uphill battle against Senate Republicans after nominating LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (pictured last January) as the US ambassador to India. Garcetti’s former bodyguard sued the city last year claiming mayoral adviser Rick Jacobs sexually harassed him on multiple occasions and the mayor allegedly failed to intervene
The photo, obtained this week by The @latimes, shows Jacobs placing his hand near the crotch of a civic activist as the two posed for a group photo at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention in 2017. Garcetti stands next to the men, smiling and giving a double thumbs-up gesture. pic.twitter.com/zqyjZe4hM0
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) November 21, 2020
Garcetti is not a defendant in the case but testified in a deposition taken earlier this year.
The mayor flatly denied allegations that he kept mum when Jacobs ‘screamed’ an anti-Asian slur at another aide out the window of Garcetti’s car and that Jacobs sexually harassed Garza in his presence ‘hundreds’ of times.
Garcetti’s nomination was announced along with those of Democratic fundraiser Denise Bauer to serve as ambassador to France and Monaco, career foreign service officer Peter Haas as ambassador to Bangladesh and former Obama-era national security aide Bernadette Meehan as ambassador to Chile.
In Garcetti, Biden will be seen as rewarding a loyal ally, someone who mulled his own 2020 run before stepping aside to manage the COVID crisis.
He then entered Biden’s inner circle, joining the committee to vet potential vice presidential contenders.
Now he must survive his own vetting.
The case filed by Garza also includes the partially unsealed testimony of former Obama White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard, who claims Garcetti expressed awareness that Jacobs’ behavior had exposed the mayor’s office to legal jeopardy.
At least one other person who worked for Garcetti and Jacobs testified that they saw examples of the latter’s alleged behavior and according to former senior aide Henry Casas, it was ‘common knowledge’ in the office that ‘it was very inappropriate.’
An ambassadorial nomination normally follows an extensive FBI background check and screening by White House counsel.
Ambassadors report directly to the president on national security matters and rule over US embassy facilities that often include a Central Intelligence Agency station.
Section 28 of the SF86 form that nominees must fill out as a detailed roadmap for the background check, instructs them to disclose ‘involvement in non-criminal court actions’ and ‘provide details of the nature of the action.’
Garza’s lawyer Greg Smith said he has not heard from the FBI or the White House but believes the sealed deposition and other testimony in the case are salient to Garcetti’s potential nomination because they contain information ‘that would be very relevant, that speak directly to the candor of the mayor.’
‘The FBI can take the steps that are required to get the depositions released,’ Smith told DailyMail.com.
‘If there’s something in the depositions that could shed light on Garcetti’s fitness to act as ambassador it seems to be that that’s something that they should look into.’
In October, Garcetti cut ties with Jacobs (left) after journalist Yashar Ali (right) accused him of forcibly kissing and hugging him multiple times. Jacobs has denied all claims of misconduct
Yashar Ali attempted to confront Jacobs about his alleged behavior in a series of texts last July, when Garza launched the sexual harassment suit
In his lawsuit, first filed last July, Garza claims Jacobs subjected him ‘on hundreds of occasions to unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and touching, including tight hugs and shoulder rubbing’ as well as as graphic ‘comments about having ‘rough sex’ with his gay partner(s)..’
A December 9 amended complaint states ‘Mayor Garcetti was present on approximately half of the occasions when Jacobs behaved in this way, and witnessed Jacobs’ conduct, but he took no action to correct Jacobs’ obviously harassing behavior….’
In a sworn deposition taken on February 8, Garcetti denied ever witnessing or hearing allegations of any untoward behavior by Jacobs.
Garcetti suggested that if people claim he was present for any such episodes the plaintiff and witnesses may simply be fabricating them.
‘Well, based on accusations of that [sic] I witnessed things, it called into question for me whether or not these things have happened.…. your closest friends can do things that are wrong…. I have not witnessed that, and I have never witnessed that,’ Garcetti said.
In seeking an ambassadorship, Garcetti – who earlier flamed out as a contender for a Biden Cabinet post – may be trying to cash in on loyalty he showed by backing Biden when he was languishing in the polls prior to winning the Democratic primary in South Carolina last year.
The lawsuit also claims Jacobs (pictured in 2016) hurled anti-Asian slurs at another city aide
That victory resurrected Biden’s chances and essentially launched him into the White House.
There has been relatively little drama to Biden nominee confirmation hearings thus far, but testing Garcetti’s deposition could garner particular attention given that the case involves a rare high-profile ‘#hetoo’ allegation by a man against another man.
At least one leading Democratic advocate for harassment victims, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who led the charge to force liberal Al Franken out of the Senate, passed up the opportunity to comment on Garcetti’s potential nomination when contacted by DailyMail.com through her spokesman.
But for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it could be a different story – particularly for its GOP members.
The panel will not only privately review the FBI background check but it could also mount a probe of its own.
Though chaired by a Democrat, the panel’s GOP members include once-and-likely-future presidential hopefuls Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida who may find it hard to pass up the opportunity to make headlines.
A spokesperson for Foreign Relations Committee Republicans said by email that they would not ‘not officially begin our vetting process for a nominee until there is a formal nomination and we have received all the requested paperwork from the nominee, prospective employing agency, and the White House.’
Experts said the committee is likely to take a hard look at the case.
President Joe Biden is facing increasing criticism for not yet nominating more than 90 ambassadors this far into his term. Eric Garcetti (pictured with the president in 2019) was reported to be a top contender for the US ambassador to India
Garcetti is reportedly trying to cash in on loyalty he showed by backing Biden when he was languishing in the polls prior to winning the Democratic primary in South Carolina last year
‘When you’ve got complicated civil litigation with sealed depositions and allegations of sexual harassment, of course the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to want to take a hard look at all the documents surrounding this matter before moving any nomination forward,’ said Elliot Berke, a Republican ethics attorney who has helped over a dozen nominees both Democratic and Republican through Senate confirmation.
He also said he ‘would absolutely expect the White House Counsel’s office is going to want access to those depositions,’ including sealed ones.
Berke said this could be done in ways that protect witness identity and perhaps involve the judge allowing in-camera review.
Among the already-public evidence is a photo showing Garcetti grinning and giving a double thumbs-up as Jacobs’ hand hovers in front of the crotch of another man standing to Garcetti’s immediate right.
Garcetti testified that the photo was taken on a trip to a Conference of Mayors meeting in Miami in 2017.
He claimed that he was not aware of Jacobs’ digital outreach at the time but was offended when he learned of it in a Los Angeles Times story last November.
Late last month, Ali tweeted of the expected Garcetti ambassadorship nomination saying ‘Biden is nominating a man who witnessed his top aide sexually harass/assault others & didn’t hold him accountable
Ali, who himself was the subject of a scathing profile published this week, on Tuesday tweeted that he had asked that the sealed depositions be released
Asked about the photo, Garcetti said in the deposition: ‘I’ve stated on the record, while not knowing the context of the photo or any of the detail, how quick, how long it was there, et cetera, whether it was a gesture or not, I have stated on the record that I find, at least what was captured here, offensive, yes.’
Garcetti also said he did not witness Jacobs hurling slurs at an Asian American city aide from the window of the mayor’s vehicle.
Jacobs is alleged to have referred to the man as a ‘c***k’ and allegedly shouted at him saying: ‘Chinaman, come here,’ using the word ‘Chinaman’ or the other ‘C***k,’ if I can say that,’ according to former mayoral aide Henry Casas’ Daccording to former mayoral aide Henry Casas’ December 17 deposition.
Casas said he was not present but swore that another city aide told him he witnessed the incident and said Jacobs ‘rolled down the window and screamed out’ from the car while the mayor was inside.
Casas said he felt pressure not to tell Garcetti and his wife Amy Wakeland anything adverse about Jacobs, a sort of Svengali who held great power over the political future of Garcetti and his aides.
Jacobs enjoyed a tremendous amount of sway over Garcetti’s political and governmental activities over the years spanning the suit’s allegations and all the way until last October, months after the suit was filed.
Casas said in his deposition that Jacobs ‘controlled [Garcetti’s] schedule, he controlled the agenda, he controlled the fundraising, he controlled the mayor’s future….he was always in the room.…. everything went through him and the mayor’s wife prior to’ the Mayoral City government staff.
Casas said he feared that if he complained about Jacobs, ‘I would have fallen out of favor.’
A lawyer for Jacobs did not return DailyMail.com’s calls for comment. Jacobs also did not return a call.
The blogger Yashar Ali, who has covered the matter aggressively, reported in October that two sources told him Jacobs had ‘grabbed them without consent and forcibly kissed them at fundraisers in front of Garcetti.’
It was only after Ali’s October report – which came months after Garza’s suit was filed and made headlines – that Garcetti parted ways with Jacobs, who had continued playing an outsized role in Garcetti’s political life.
Meanwhile, then-candidate Biden had continued featuring Garcetti prominently in his campaign activities.
Ali also alleged personal experience in which he wrote that Jacobs ‘used to forcibly kiss me on the lips.’
Ali included a statement from Jacobs in which he said the lawsuit was ‘a work of pure fiction, and is out of left field.’
‘Officer Garza and I worked together for many years without incident. I will vigorously defend myself, my character and my reputation,’ he added.
DailyMail.com sought comment from the White House, Mayor Garcetti’s office and attorneys for Jacobs and Bernard and the City Attorney’s office.
Garcetti is set to participate on a ‘Climate Crisis’ hearing held by the House Select Committee Friday afternoon.
The event will focus on the federal government efforts to ‘reduce climate disaster risks in neighborhoods across America, while fostering innovation and community leadership,’ according to the website.
Garcetti, a Democrat who once was speculated to be edging toward a presidential run, is one of four public officials scheduled to provide ‘testimony’ on their efforts to tackle the climate crisis.
Garza’s lawyers have reportedly been sparring with Garcetti’s Los Angeles City attorneys over efforts to get the mayor’s wife Amy Wakeland (pictured) to sit for a deposition
Late last month, Ali tweeted of the expected Garcetti ambassadorship nomination saying: ‘Biden is nominating a man who witnessed his top aide sexually harass/assault others & didn’t hold him accountable.
‘Since this history of predation was revealed publicly, Garcetti has repeatedly lied about it,’ he added.
Ali, who himself was the subject of a scathing profile published this week, on Tuesday tweeted that he had asked that the sealed depositions be released.
Eleven months after the suit was filed, The Los Angeles Times this week also filed an official request in court for confidentiality orders to be lifted except for items that must be concealed to protect privacy.
The still-sealed depositions include those of Jacobs, whose alleged conduct is the central issue, and parts of Obama aide Jeremy Bernard’s testimony.
Parts of Bernard’s March 24 deposition unsealed Wednesday, showed that he confirmed having heard Garcetti marvel at the fact that the city had not previously been sued over Jacobs’ conduct.
Bernard claimed Garcetti said something along the lines of, ‘I can’t believe Rick worked out at City Hall and that we got through it without a lawsuit.
‘I don’t remember the exact words. He did make that comment,’ Bernard said during his testimony.
In his deposition, Garcetti swore that ‘I have not’ ever made any such remark about Jacobs prior to Garza’s suit being filed.
Bernard also said he ‘certainly have heard’ Jacobs talk about men’s body parts.
Until April 2020, Bernard headed the Mayor’s Fund, a non-profit founded to push Garcetti’s agenda and which said it was raising tens of millions of dollars for underprivileged affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
He was paid about $206,214 in his last 10 months on the job, according to disclosures, more than double the $92,903 he received for his first 11 months.
In his deposition, Bernard’s lawyer said he had a confidentiality agreement relating to his departure.
The disclosures show that the Mayor’s Fund raised tens of millions of dollars without disclosing its donors.
Also under seal is one of Officer Garza’s several depositions, which his lawyer said the City of Los Angeles requested to be kept sealed.
Among the allegations included in the lawsuit’s amended complaint, was that Jacobs had made flirtatious comments while touching Garza during a May 2018 trip to New Hampshire when Garcetti was exploring a presidential bid.
Jacobs ‘would reach forward from the backseat and massage Plaintiff’s shoulders while stating words to the effect of, ‘You’re so strong; I love my LAPD officers’,’ the complaint states.
‘Garcetti was not only present, but was seated directly next to Jacobs. Nevertheless, the mayor did nothing to stop Jacobs or curtail his behavior.’
In an October 2018 trip to Mississippi, ‘in the car, Jacobs – while seated next to Mayor Garcetti – repeatedly made inappropriate and/or harassing comments, including comments about his young lover’s penis, being tired from having ‘rough sex’ the night before, liking ‘big c**ks’, liking rough sex, and being attracted to younger men….
‘Once again, Mayor Garcetti took no action to stop Jacobs from making these comments.’
Later on the same trip, the complaint claims, Jacobs allegedly ‘pointed to some Magnum brand condoms and asked Plaintiff if he wears Magnum large condoms,’ after the group stopped for gas and food.
In a March 2019 trip to Palo Alto, Jacobs allegedly gave Garza a ‘long, tight hug while stating words to the effect of, ‘You’re so strong and handsome.’ Later that evening, Garcetti and some VIPs met in the hotel lobby for a meet and greet. On multiple occasions, Jacobs—who was drinking an alcoholic beverage with a straw in it—looked directly at Plaintiff and licked his straw in a sexual manner. This action deeply offended Plaintiff and made him extremely uncomfortable.’
Meanwhile, Garza’s lawyers have been sparring with Garcetti’s Los Angeles City attorneys over efforts to get Garcetti’s wife Amy Wakeland, 51, to sit for a deposition.
The Garza suit has not completely chilled relations between the Garcettis and the police.
The Los Angeles Times reported in February that Wakeland acknowledged complaining to her family’s LAPD security detail some 80 times from March through December 2020 about noise from protesters for racial justice and against coronavirus restrictions that she said had disturbed her daughter’s sleep or homework.
‘If the nomination proceeds, it probably reflects the White House decision that there may not be any significance in that litigation for Garcetti,’ a witness and thus far not a defendant in the case, said Jan Baran, a longtime leading Republican ethics lawyer in Washington.
‘The vetting process for an ambassador is substantive, usually thorough and often political. And especially for non-career ambassadorial nominees…. There are going to be multiple eyes focused on this candidate.
‘It’ll be the White House, it’ll be the FBI it will be Senate investigators, it will be Senators.
‘And there will also be open-ended opportunities for any citizen to submit materials to the Senate. So this is a largely but not totally open process.’