Harry Reid Rebuked Amy Klobuchar For Mistreatment Of Staff

A leaked campaign document shows how staff tried to manage her anger.
Complaints about Sen. Klobuchar's mistreatment of staff date back to her first run for Senate.
Complaints about Sen. Klobuchar's mistreatment of staff date back to her first run for Senate.
Bill Clark via Getty Images

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s mistreatment of her office staff began more than a decade ago and eventually caused such concerns that in 2015, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) spoke to her privately and told her to change her behavior, multiple sources have confirmed to HuffPost.

Klobuchar, a Democrat who plans to announce whether she’s running for president at a rally in Minneapolis on Sunday, has faced trouble hiring campaign aides because of her history of mistreating staff.

A spokesman for Reid said the retired senator prefers not to discuss private conversations he had with other senators. In this case, Reid also does not remember whether or not he had this discussion with Klobuchar, the spokesman said.

“Sen. Klobuchar is one of the most brilliant, hardest-working members of the Senate, and I was glad to serve alongside her,” said Reid. “She’s tireless when it comes to fighting for the people of Minnesota and the country, and that’s why she’s such a popular Senator back home and among her colleagues.”

But Reid’s 2015 admonishment of Klobuchar appears to have been a rare point of intervention in a long history of complaints about Klobuchar’s behavior, which date back to at least her time as the Hennepin County attorney in Minneapolis. That was the job Klobuchar had when she first ran for Senate in 2006.

During that first campaign, aides assembled an eight-page memo outlining the duties of Klobuchar’s body person, the staffer who oversees all of the logistics and personal needs of a candidate. It was frank about the challenges of working with the then-candidate.

“Especially while in the car during a busy day: if she is EXTREMELY upset about something, let her rant through it, DON’T interupt [sic] her unless ABSOLUTELY necessary and be careful when trying to calm her down,” the memo reads. “Often she just needs to talk things out in the open and is not interested in other people’s opinions―this is something that you will become used to and adjust to―its just a note for the first time this happens.”

In response, Ben Goldfarb, who managed her 2006 campaign, said, “Running for political office is incredibly hard for the candidate, their family and staff, and our team was proud to help elect her.“

During that same campaign, the president of the AFSCME local, the union that represented many of Klobuchar’s employees in the county attorney’s office, asked the larger Twin Cities AFSCME affiliate not to endorse Klobuchar’s Senate bid, citing her “shameful treatment of her employees.”

Klobuchar had “created a hostile work environment” and “severely damaged the morale of the office,” wrote James Appleby, the president of the local. The letter claimed that grievances to the union increased under Klobuchar’s tenure and that Klobuchar once told her own employees they weren’t competent enough to work at her former law firm. It also claimed the local had asked the union to withhold its endorsement for her county attorney bid in 2002.

“In short, Amy Klobuchar is exactly the kind of candidate that AFSCME should oppose,” he wrote.

The letter, which Appleby provided to HuffPost (and which is reprinted below), followed a contentious battle over potential pay raises for Klobuchar’s staff, more than 100 of whom were represented by AFSCME. The union claimed Hennepin County attorneys were among the worst paid in the state after years of being the best paid.

At the time, Klobuchar said she advocated for a salary increase but was constrained by budgetary concerns, and she disputed the letter’s claim that union grievances increased under her leadership.

“Staff are staff, they’re not maids. There’s a difference between ‘Make sure I have a Diet Coke at an event’ and ‘Pick up my dirty clothes while you wait for me to get dressed.’”

She and her staff maintained that the letter was backlash over the salary negotiations, according to a 2006 Star Tribune article. A county board official said at the time that Klobuchar had fought vigorously for the increase, and Paul Scoggin, a managing attorney in her office, praised her as a “terrific leader.” He called the letter “mean-spirited and angry.”

Scoggin did not respond to interview requests. A former manager in the office said it was hard to imagine how Klobuchar created a morale problem given that most of the attorneys didn’t have day-to-day contact with her. “Can she be hard to work for? Yeah, because she never stops working,” he said. “And that burns some people out, and that’s the job.”

The letter, in a passage that potentially echoes sexist stereotypes about female elected officials, also claims that Klobuchar’s political ambition compromised her management of the office. It accuses her of taking credit for her employees’ hard work by being the public face of the office and rejecting qualified job applicants to work in her office in favor of “candidates who support her ambitions.”

Klobuchar, a talented retail politician who visited every one of the state’s 87 counties, won her 2006 election easily and has been re-elected twice by wide margins.

But as HuffPost reported Wednesday, concerns about how she treated her staff followed her to Washington, where her rate of staff turnover is consistently one of the highest in the Senate.

Former members of her staff told HuffPost that Klobuchar ground down morale with constant and cruel late-night emails and claimed staff was required to perform personal duties for her — such as washing dishes in her home — in violation of the Senate’s rules and federal law against personal use of the office.

Other people in her Senate offices feel that many criticisms of Klobuchar could be a product of sexism, sources told HuffPost.

“I’ve heard people say she’s tough to work for, and I sometimes cringe when I hear it because I rarely hear that said about male bosses in Congress despite the fact that half of Congress is tough to work for,” said Tristan Brown, a former legislative aide.

Making personal demands of staff is an extremely common practice in the Senate and the body has weak procedures for enforcing its rules. The House, by contrast, calls out its members for breaking the same federal law somewhat more regularly.

There isn’t a comparable set of rules around the use of campaign staff. And in the frenzy of a Senate race, it isn’t unusual for campaign workers to do personal errands — getting the dry cleaning, cleaning a car — for which the candidate simply doesn’t have time.

When Klobuchar ran for re-election in 2012, her staff re-used the body person memo from 2006, a 2012 staffer said. Most of the notes for the body person are typical, with instructions for which of her belongings to pack and how to politely keep her on schedule. (A former staffer provided a copy on the condition that HuffPost not publish the entire memo.) Memos like these are not uncommon: In 2017, Politico revealed the existence of an eight-page document from then-Rep. Todd Rokita’s office that dealt solely with how to chauffeur the Indiana Republican around his district.

Still, a former longtime advance man who reviewed the Klobuchar campaign memo for HuffPost said that it contained duties he felt crossed a line and that the memo at times is jarring, such as when it reads, “Only speak when spoken to at events,” so as not to unnecessarily prolong a conversation.

The section that troubled him most was titled “Personal Preferences & Needs at Home.” It described what the body person ought to do “During free time or when waiting in her room (dressing area/bedroom)”:

  • Hang up clothes she leaves laying on the floor & her chair
  • Pick up dirty clothes & place in a basket (in the hallway between room & bathroom)
  • Organize clothing in the closet so she can find items easily (separate into shirts, suits, etc)
  • Throw away any garbage in the dressing area
  • Make sure nylons/socks/etc are in drawers are arranged for easy retrieval

“Staff are staff, they’re not maids,” he said. “There’s a difference between ‘Make sure I have a Diet Coke at an event’ and ‘Pick up my dirty clothes while you wait for me to get dressed.’ … I get it. Candidates’ lives are incredibly demanding, and unless you’re worth millions and you can pay someone to staff your house, sometimes political staff, they jump in and fill that void. And it’s not appropriate.”

Klobuchar’s office and her campaign did not reply to questions for this article. In response to HuffPost’s initial story, Klobuchar’s campaign said the senator “loves her staff.”

“She has many staff who have been with her for years ― including her Chief of Staff and her State Director, who have worked for her for 5 and 7 years respectively ― and many who have gone on to do amazing things, from working in the Obama Administration (over 20 of them) to running for office to even serving as the Agriculture Commissioner for Minnesota. She is proud of them and the work they have done for Minnesota,” the campaign said.

The former advance man, who spoke on condition of anonymity so he could compare his own work experiences, was also struck by the memo’s warning about Klobuchar’s outbursts.

He said it is normal for senior staff to warn body people of a candidate’s quirks and the ways they unwind in private. He’s seen plenty of candidates climb into the car after an event and begin to rant. “So you let them,” he said.

It crosses a line, he said, “if they’re taking it out on the person sitting there.”

That is broadly the problem that former Klobuchar staff and those who have interacted with them describe.

A former aide to ex-Sen. Al Franken recalled an encounter at a Veterans Day event to which Klobuchar was running late. (Franken, another Minnesota Democrat, resigned from the Senate in December 2017 after multiple women accused him of groping them or forcibly kissing them, often at political events.)

A young Klobuchar staffer was sent to explain the senator’s lateness to the Franken staffer.

“I’m supposed to tell you,” she said, with a look of terror on her face, “Senator Klobuchar is late today because I am bad at my job.”

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