Allegations that male members of his campaign had harassed and discriminated against female campaign workers have been circulating for weeks as the senator weighs a potential second presidential run.
“I thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for speaking out,” Sanders wrote in a statement. “What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign, or any campaign, should be about.”
He continued, “The allegations speak to unacceptable behavior that must not be tolerated in any campaign or workplace. To the women in that campaign who were harassed or mistreated I apologize.”
More than two dozen women have come forward with allegations against campaign staffers. Politico reported Wednesday that a top adviser on the campaign had forcibly kissed a female subordinate after the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
The adviser, Robert Becker, has denied any wrongdoing. Friends of Bernie Sanders, the senator’s main campaign committee, said Becker would not be a part of any future campaigns in response to the allegation against him.
Sanders has not personally been the focus of any of the accusations. He has said he had been unaware of the alleged harassment and mistreatment of his aides during the campaign.
“I was little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case,” Sanders told CNN on Jan. 2.
In his statement Thursday, Sanders admitted his 2016 campaign’s “standards and safeguards were inadequate.” He outlined what steps his 2018 Senate re-election campaign had taken to prevent sexual harassment, including training on the issue for all employees.
Former campaign staffers wrote a letter to the senator in December to request a meeting with him and his advisers about “the issue of sexual violence and harassment on the 2016 campaign” in order to “mitigate the issue in the upcoming presidential cycle.”
Over two dozen Sanders alumni signed the letter, in which they noted a culture of what they called toxic masculinity was common throughout the campaign world, Politico reported.
“We are addressing what happened on the Bernie campaign but as people that work in this space we see that all campaigns are extremely dangerous to women and marginalized people and we are attempting to fix that,” the campaign staffers wrote.
The allegations have cast a shadow on Sanders’ potential 2020 run in a likely crowded field of Democratic contenders. Though the allegations against Sanders’ campaign are far-reaching, the issue of sexual harassment has been pervasive across the political spectrum and beyond, as brought to light in the wake of the Me Too movement.
Several other high-profile former and current lawmakers have been embroiled in sexual harassment allegations against their aides.
A senior aide for Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is also considering a presidential bid, resigned last month after reports that the state paid $400,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him while Harris was the California attorney general.
Harris’ office said she had been previously unaware of the lawsuit.