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Hillary Clinton explains why she didn’t fire a staffer accused of sexual harassment

Her statement was deeply unsatisfying.

Hillary Clinton in December 2017
Hillary Clinton in December 2017.
Araya Diaz/WireImage
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

On the night of President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address, Hillary Clinton published a statement on her decision not to fire a campaign adviser who was accused of sexual harassment.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, a female staffer reported that Clinton’s faith adviser, Burns Strider, had touched her inappropriately, kissed her on the forehead, and sent her suggestive emails, according to Maggie Haberman and Amy Chozick of the New York Times. Clinton’s campaign manager at the time, Patti Solis Doyle, as well as Jess O’Connell, the campaign’s national director of operations, reportedly recommended that Strider be fired. But Clinton instead moved the female staffer to a different job, docked Strider’s pay, and ordered Strider to attend counseling — which, sources tell the Times, he never did.

Strider was later hired by Correct the Record, a group that supported Clinton’s 2016 run for president. He was fired a few months later, Chozick and Haberman write — among the reasons were reports that he had harassed a female aide.

Clinton had addressed the story briefly on Friday, tweeting that she was “dismayed” by the harassment report but “heartened the young woman came forward.” But a few minutes before Trump’s speech began on Tuesday night, Clinton posted a lengthier statement on Facebook, in which she attempted to explain her decision process at the time. Though Clinton admitted she wouldn’t make the same choice again, her statement falls short as an apology, attempting to deflect attention onto others and failing to address some of the key issues in the case.

“I didn’t think firing him was the best solution to the problem”

“If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t,” Clinton said of her decision to keep Strider on. But at the time, she wrote, “I didn’t think firing him was the best solution to the problem. He needed to be punished, change his behavior, and understand why his actions were wrong. The young woman needed to be able to thrive and feel safe. I thought both could happen without him losing his job.”

“Taking away someone’s livelihood is perhaps the most serious thing an employer can do,” she went on. “When faced with a situation like this, if I think it’s possible to avoid termination while still doing right by everyone involved, I am inclined in that direction.”

It’s not clear, however, whether Clinton really did right by everyone involved when she asked a woman who reported harassment to change jobs, while the man whose behavior she reported got to keep his.

Clinton says that she reassigned the female staffer to work directly for her deputy campaign manager, and that the staffer “flourished in her new role.” After the Times story broke, Clinton writes, she reached out to the former staffer, who said she “was glad that her accusations were taken seriously, that there was a clear process in place for dealing with harassment, and that it was followed.”

“She’s read every word of this and has given me permission to share it,” Clinton wrote. The woman has not spoken herself, perhaps in part because, as the Times reports, she signed a nondisclosure agreement with the campaign. It’s not clear whether Clinton has released or plans to release her from this agreement.

Clinton writes that at the time, she believed her punishment of Strider “was severe and the message to him unambiguous,” and that he later “squandered” the second chance she gave him. She does not address sources’ contention that he never actually completed the counseling she ordered.

The former candidate also writes that the report of harassment by Strider at Correct the Record “troubles me greatly.” Then she asks, “Would he have done better — been better — if I had fired him? Would he have gotten that next job? There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers.” But she does not address whether she warned or considered warning future employers about the 2008 staffer’s report on Strider.

After attempting to explain her decision, Clinton pivots to what feels like a criticism of the Times. “While we are revisiting whether my decision from a decade ago was harsh enough, many employers would be well served to take actions at least as severe when confronted with problems now — including the very media outlet that broke this story,” she writes. “They recently opted to suspend and reinstate one of their journalists who exhibited similarly inappropriate behavior, rather than terminate him. A decade from now, that decision may not look as tough as it feels today.”

The Times’s decision not to fire Glenn Thrush, the former White House correspondent who was the subject of accounts of sexual misconduct first published by Vox, is the subject of intense debate inside and outside media. (Full disclosure: I used to work at the Times, but never worked with Thrush.) It is also irrelevant to Clinton’s conduct during the 2008 campaign. Clinton’s discussion of Thrush’s employment feels like a transparent attempt to deflect attention from her own decisions.

Hillary Clinton is not directly responsible for Strider’s conduct during her campaign. But she is responsible for how she reacted to it — a reaction that affected a woman’s career and that may have left others vulnerable to harassment. Her statement on that reaction leaves a lot to be desired.

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