Rep. Rick Nolan’s legislative director left the office amid multiple sexual harassment accusations in 2015. Months later, he was hired by Nolan’s campaign

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Rep. Rick Nolan said he retained the “separated employee” as a “vendor” for his 2016 campaign and emphasized that he worked remotely.

Congressman Rick Nolan’s former legislative director has been accused of sexual harassment — and in one case, repeated groping — by several women who used to work for the Democratic representative of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

Former staffers say that in the summer of 2015, Nolan and his two most senior aides allowed Jim Swiderski to resign his post and tell colleagues he was looking for new opportunities rather than make him face formal disciplinary consequences after several female staffers raised harassment allegations. Months later, Swiderski was hired to do work for Nolan’s 2016 re-election campaign. He was only let go after a group of Nolan aides put pressure on the congressman to remove him.

MinnPost spoke to eight former employees of Nolan’s congressional office and of his campaigns, a group that included three women with specific harassment allegations, and five other staffers who corroborated details about Swiderski and provided information about the work environments in the congressman’s office and campaign. Most of these former Nolan employees remain active in Minnesota Democratic politics and requested anonymity to speak candidly without fear of retribution.

These staffers remain disturbed over the way Swiderski’s behavior was handled by Nolan and his most trusted lieutenants, particularly chief of staff Jodie Torkelson and district director Jeff Anderson.

In a statement to MinnPost, Torkelson claimed responsibility for all personnel decisions in Nolan’s federal office, and said that Swiderski, who denied the allegations against him, was “separated from the office” in June 2015 after she reviewed the staffers’ complaints. (According to his Facebook profile, Swiderski currently lives in China. Efforts to reach him for this article were unsuccessful.)

In a statement of his own, Nolan said he retained the “separated employee” as a “vendor” for his 2016 campaign and emphasized that he worked remotely. “In hindsight,” Nolan said, “the vendor should not have been retained by the campaign committee.”

‘You’re ashamed of what’s happening’

One former staffer for Nolan accuses Swiderski of groping and harassing her. The woman, who will be called Rachel for the purposes of this story, arrived in Nolan’s D.C. office in 2013 for her summer internship as a 20-year-old college student who had never lived outside Minnesota. Rachel currently works for a gubernatorial campaign in Minnesota and was approached by MinnPost to discuss her experience with Swiderski.

Rachel recalls Swiderski taking a special interest in her from the very beginning. As the legislative director, Swiderski — then in his mid-60s and a trusted senior aide of the congressman — was the head of Nolan’s policy shop, and doled out assignments to interns and young staffers working on policy, press and constituent-service projects.

“When I was working on a research project, it was under him,” Rachel says. “When I had to write anything, it was for him,” she says. “Everything I did, he was the one giving me that opportunity to do it.”

She remembers Swiderski instructing her to write a brief on foreign policy, telling her that a strong performance would help make her career. “It was just one of those moments, like, this isn’t normal,” she says. “You’re saying you gave me this opportunity — it definitely had the connotation of having something over me, like ‘I gave you this.’”

Jim Swiderski
Twitter
Jim Swiderski

By the second or third week of her internship, Rachel says Swiderski made it clear that his interest in her extended beyond the realm of mentorship. She recalls one afternoon in the D.C. office, standing at a filing cabinet that sat at the end of a narrow hallway. The placement of the cabinet made it difficult for staffers to pass through without asking each other to move.

“I clearly remember him grabbing my hips and rubbing against me as he passed,” Rachel says. What followed, she says, was denial and disbelief that a senior staffer would do something like that to a young intern. It was also followed by an escalation of Swiderski’s brazenness: Rachel recalls being summoned to drop off files to Swiderski in his enclosed cubicle, and when he was sure no one was looking, Rachel says he would grope her from behind as she turned to leave.

“He would touch me in some way that was inappropriate probably once a week. He would do something. Sometimes, he would tap the ass, sometimes he would grab it, it was always like that,” she says. “And every time, I would just ignore it. Not say anything, not react, because you don’t want anyone else to know. You’re embarrassed. You’re ashamed of what’s happening.

“You don’t believe it’s happening when it’s happening. Because you’re like, there’s no way this 65-year-old man just grabbed my ass in an office with people around. And you just hope nobody finds out because you’re so disgusted with it. You physically feel disgusting from it. Even though it’s not your fault, even though you’ve done nothing to provoke this, you’re just standing there filing shit and he’ll touch you.”

Throughout her summer in D.C., Swiderski would also ask Rachel out to dinner or drinks after work, invitations she always declined or ignored. She also told no one at the time about Swiderski’s behavior, partly out of denial and partly out of concern that it would prevent her from achieving her ultimate goal — landing a job in Nolan’s office after graduating college.

“I don’t come from money, I don’t come from connections,” she says. “Everything is mine that I’ve done. And then to be like, I need to keep him happy in some way — to just keep quiet about this, I need him to not speak up against me when the time comes to go for a job here.”

She recalls one final indignity from that summer: On her last day in the office, Rachel, who describes herself as an affectionate person, was hugging coworkers as she left, dreading Swiderski, because she knew it would be noticed if she did not also hug him goodbye.

“I remember having to give him a hug and having him clearly grab my ass again,” she said. “That was just like, OK. Bye.”

Swiderski attempted to make connection with an intern

Rachel did end up getting that job working for Nolan — but back in his Minnesota district office. Meanwhile, new interns continued to cycle through Nolan’s D.C. office, and Swiderski continued to target some of them. Another former Nolan staffer who spoke extensively with MinnPost to detail Swiderski’s behavior will be called Amanda for the purposes of this story. She currently works in the nonprofit sector and is no longer involved in Minnesota politics.

Amanda says she was contacted by Swiderski before she even considered working with the congressman: during her college years, a time when she was active in DFL politics, Swiderski added her as a friend on Facebook and began sending her messages and leaving comments on photos she posted — the content of which, she says, made her uncomfortable.

“There’s that line between a nice compliment and something a little kind of gross,” Amanda says. “And it was veering on gross. It was someone I’d never met.” (She noted Swiderski identified himself on Facebook as Nolan’s legislative director.)

Amanda deleted Swiderski as a friend, but got in touch with him again a year later, as she graduated college and was considering an internship in Nolan’s office. She hoped to get on the office’s radar, so she reconnected with Swiderski to point out the work she had been doing on behalf of the party back in Minnesota.

“I thought if he saw my name, he’d put my résumé higher,” Amanda says. But after that initial contact, Amanda says Swiderski began to message her frequently, and the content of his messages soon became “very creepy.”

She recalls Swiderski contacting her before he departed on a trip to southeast Asia. In messages reviewed by MinnPost, Swiderski talked about how men held on to very “macho” attitudes in many parts of the world. “It must be hard for attractive women in a mans [sic] world,” he messaged, adding later, “old guys like me are still arrogant leeches!”

At another point, Amanda recalls Swiderski offering advice about working in Washington. “You are also young and pretty, and that normally works against you, believe it or not, since it becomes a liability for the congressman,” he said in a message.

Amanda recalled Swiderski telling her that he was “working hard to help you overcome these barriers” —  the obstacle of her appearance being a liability to her career advancement, in Swiderski’s view.

“I took it as him using it as an excuse to comment on my appearance and using it as a way to reinforce that I needed to keep talking to him, that I was dependent on him, I couldn’t do this without him,” she says.

Amanda says that, while she was applying for the internship, Swiderski would message her two to three times per week on Facebook, and she’d occasionally respond, so as to not alienate an influential senior staffer. (Amanda showed MinnPost a meme that Swiderski sent her: an image with text saying “did you know that a 20-second hug releases the bonding hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin?”)

Once Amanda got the internship and started in the Washington office, Swiderski attempted to position himself as a gatekeeper of important work and professional advancement. (He also offered to pick her up at the airport when she arrived in Washington. She declined.)

Several women noticed Swiderski’s pattern of focusing on female interns, something that became clearer to Amanda the longer she spent in the Nolan office. “He had a tendency to pick a favorite and give them lots of projects. There was never a male one he did that with,” she said.

“After having the full picture, seeing him add interns when I was a staffer, add female, very young interns on Facebook as a friend, that’s when I realized that messages he sent me weren’t just impulsive, creepy thoughts he had. I think it was him testing the waters and trying to set the narrative of, ‘I’m the decision-maker here, and you need my help.’”

Amanda says she never felt physically threatened by Swiderski, but she remembers a day that feels more sinister to her, in retrospect. One day early in her internship, as afternoon turned to evening and staffers wrapped up work for the day, Swiderski whisked Amanda to a remote conference room in the Rayburn House Office Building to view some maps, “explaining this overly complicated project that wasn’t as complicated as he made it out to be.”

The incident struck Amanda as odd, and she remembers feeling deeply uncomfortable being taken alone somewhere by Swiderski. She was not the only one who found it concerning: Returning to the office with him afterwards, she found that her coworkers were uncomfortable, too; they pointed out to the legislative director that it was seven o’clock and Amanda, an intern, should have already gone home.

One of the staffers who saw Swiderski leave the office with Amanda told MinnPost she was “super freaked out” when it happened, and considered sending a male intern with them. She recalled telling another staffer, “I’m not leaving this office until she gets back.”

A range of ‘creepy’ comments

After being promoted to a full-time position after a few months as an intern — and realizing that maintaining a good relationship with Swiderski wasn’t necessary to advance in Nolan’s office — Amanda said she began putting the legislative director at arm’s length.

“I was really careful to keep my distance,” she says. “There were times he’d loom over, touch your arm. But I think I kept a pretty rigid body language … I kept the warmth out. I made an active, conscious decision to be repellent when interacting with him.”

Swiderski seemed to get those messages — so much so that several female staffers said that Swiderski would complain to other senior aides about the cold manner in which they treated him.

Nevertheless, Swiderski kept up a steady stream of demeaning comments toward women in the workplace. One former female staffer, herself just a few years out of college, says that one day, Swiderski came in, leaned over her at her desk, and quietly told her, “You’re looking real good these days.” She said that Swiderski sent her a Post-it note a month later with the same message; another day, at a meeting with the congressman that she sat in on, Swiderski winked at her and told Nolan, “isn’t she looking good?”

“That moment is so seared in my brain,” the woman said, who remembers the day — a Monday in February — and even what she was wearing. “It made me so uncomfortable.”

Amanda recalls Swiderski talking about a female staffer in another office being irritated with him and joking about her menstruating; another time, when Amanda was complaining about a staffer in another office, Swiderski made a cat-hissing sound.

“I sent around an email about a NASA reception,” Amanda says, “and he responded saying ‘party girl’ with a winky face. This is over official email… That was pretty common for the other women in the office to be, ‘look what he’s doing.’”

Swiderski’s behavior was a frequent topic of conversation among Nolan staffers, usually in private messages sent through Google’s chat client, then known as Gchat. Though younger, female Nolan staffers frequently commiserated with one another, Swiderski’s language and behavior was not lost on male staffers, either.

A male former Nolan aide who worked closely with Swiderski said he would frequently make comments about women’s looks. “There’d be times in the elevator, when it’d just be us two, where he’d comment on women in a way that I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t want you talking about my sister like that, or looking at my sister like that.’”

How Swiderski was ousted from Nolan’s D.C. office

One day in the spring of 2015, Amanda had enough. Swiderski had just made what she felt was a sarcastically sexist comment — muttering “yes, ma’am” when she confronted him about repeatedly interrupting her during a call with her own supervisor.

It was the kind of comment she’d heard regularly from Swiderski since joining the Nolan office. But this time, she sat down to write an email to Torkelson, the chief of staff, outlining her concerns about Swiderski and instances of his inappropriate behavior, saying she should be aware of them.

Amanda says a day passed with no response from Torkelson. She decided to print out images of the Facebook messages and comments that Swiderski left her, put them in a nondescript envelope, and drop them on Torkelson’s desk. It was after this that Amanda says she finally spoke with Torkelson directly about her claims. She says the chief of staff called her into her office and acknowledged that Swiderski’s messages and behavior were over the line, and promised an investigation into his behavior that would result in repercussions.

She was not the first person to come to Torkelson with complaints about Swiderski: the woman who Swiderski repeatedly said was “looking good” says she told the chief of staff that she found his conduct with female interns concerning. (He seems to “hyper-focus” on them, she recalls saying. “He always picked the prettiest female intern to work with him.”)

When Amanda came forward with her allegations and spoke to coworkers about them, it prompted Rachel to tell her story for the first time. Rachel spoke first with a female colleague in Nolan’s office, who spoke to MinnPost on the condition of anonymity and will be called Natalie for this story. (Natalie no longer works for Nolan, or for any elected official, but she still works in politics.)

Natalie had known Rachel asked her coworkers to be notified in advance if Swiderski would be present at an official or campaign event in the 8th District, making clear she didn’t want to be asked why. That raised a red flag for Natalie, and she contacted Rachel to ask if anything had happened with Swiderski.

When Rachel began telling her story, Natalie, who knew Swiderski, said she was so unsurprised that she immediately flipped into a “very scientific mode” when hearing the details. She compiled all the information in a letter, which she sent to Torkelson.

Rachel says that she spoke with Torkelson on the phone to discuss her allegations against Swiderski. In Rachel’s telling, the chief of staff told her she should have come forward immediately after she was groped — a little less than two years prior. “I remember sitting in the car having to airplane shout,” Rachel remembers. “Oh my god! I was 20! What was I supposed to do? It felt like she was more upset that she was having to deal with it, rather than it had occurred.” (MinnPost sent Torkelson a list of questions regarding the office’s handling of Swiderski, including her alleged comments to Rachel. She did not address that in her statement.)

Amanda never spoke with Nolan directly about Swiderski. But she says that, when she sat down with Torkelson, the chief of staff said she had already spoken with Nolan about the harassment allegations. Rachel, meanwhile, said that on at least one occasion, Nolan asked her if she wanted to discuss Swiderski, which she declined.

With Amanda and Rachel having both spoken with Torkelson about Swiderski’s behavior, and others in the office aware of what was going on, the situation escalated in mid-May of 2015. Amanda noted to Rachel at the time that Swiderski began acting strangely in the D.C. office, and she suspected he knew that allegations against him had surfaced.

These women in Nolan’s office anxiously waited for an official response and action against Swiderski. Amanda and others were told by top aides that some kind of disciplinary process would be forthcoming — several recalled mentions of “sexual harassment training” — and Amanda says the chief of staff promised that a formal complaint would be filed with the relevant House ethical authorities.

But sources familiar with the deliberations of the senior level of the Nolan operation — which consisted of Nolan, Torkelson and district director Jeff Anderson — say that they settled on telling Swiderski that he had to go, knowing that a public airing of his conduct could damage Nolan’s re-election prospects in what they anticipated would be another close contest. (The 8th District, which covers an area of northeastern Minnesota that spans from Duluth and the Iron Range to the Brainerd Lakes area and the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs has, in recent years, been Minnesota’s most competitive congressional district. Nolan won re-election in 2014 and 2016 by just a few thousand votes.)

Natalie, who heard directly about these deliberations, said few expected Swiderski to get fired outright. “This is a 40-year plus friend of the congressman’s, and for anybody, that’s going to be really hard to throw your friend out the door and be fired.”

In her statement to MinnPost, Torkelson said that over a roughly five-week period in May and June 2015, she fielded the complaints against Swiderski, interviewed the women making the complaints, interviewed Swiderski — who denied the allegations — and reviewed more evidence. “I then met with the alleged perpetrator, who was then separated from the office,” Torkelson said. “I advised Congressman Nolan of the separation of the former employee from the office.”

Those who spoke to MinnPost, however, describe Nolan as a demanding, engaged boss who involved himself in decisions big and small. They believe he would have made the final call to oust Swiderski. “It’d be highly unlikely anyone would be able to make a move on Jim Swiderski without Rick Nolan’s blessing,” one former staffer recalls.

In June, Nolan told Rachel that Swiderski would be leaving the office. “It was a very clear moment,” Rachel says now. “Oh, you’re not gonna fire him. You’re just going to let him go, make a few phone calls.”

Torkelson said that on June 26, Swiderski was formally “separated” from the office. Neither Swiderski nor any senior staff would publicly say why he was leaving; instead, the legislative director announced to his colleagues that he was pursuing a presidential appointment to the Peace Corps, and that he’d be resigning his post to do so. There was a send-off party for him, staffers recall, complete with cake.

A return that was hard to stomach

Rachel, Amanda, Natalie and others were disappointed that Swiderski did not face any formal disciplinary action; beyond that, he was spared embarrassment and a public reckoning over his behavior. But they were relieved to see him go, comforted by knowing he wouldn’t be around anymore.

The last thing they anticipated was that Swiderski would return to Nolan’s orbit — and that he’d be back less than a year after he was ousted from the D.C. office.

In March of 2016, Nolan’s re-election effort was gearing up and the campaign was looking for someone to draft letters to the editors of area newspapers, a common tactic to burnish a candidate’s image. In charge of Nolan’s campaign was Joe Radinovich, a former state legislator who represented a House district encompassing Nolan’s hometown of Crosby. It would be his first time working for Nolan.

A source who was then working for the Nolan campaign said that Nolan suggested hiring Swiderski, who was at this point living back in Minnesota, to write the campaign’s letters to the editor. Radinovich agreed to bring him on, and Swiderski was doing work on behalf of the Nolan campaign by late March. (MinnPost asked Nolan who made the call to hire Swiderski on the campaign; his statement simply said “the campaign retained the separated employee” — Swiderski — “as an independent contractor… while working out of his home on the research project.”)

Though he was working remotely from his hometown of Onamia in Mille Lacs County, Swiderski was popping up at Nolan’s campaign events, and word quickly spread among staffers in Minnesota and D.C. that he was employed by the campaign. Many were outraged and incredulous: “I was just like, what the fuck?” Rachel recalls. “How do you bring him back? I still don’t quite understand how [Nolan] thought that was ok.”

Michelle Thimios, who was the finance director for the Nolan campaign, was aware that a senior aide left the D.C. office a year earlier after inappropriate behavior came to light. (She is currently working for a congressional campaign in Kansas.) Thimios says another Nolan aide helped her make the connection that the man who was asked to leave the D.C. office in 2015 and the man just brought on to do communications work for the campaign were the same.

Thimios followed up with several women, including Rachel. When they spoke, Thimios says Rachel “was pretty clear with me that [Swiderski] had physically touched her inappropriately. These were all in work situations, which makes it even harder to stomach that this person would be hired on a campaign where he’d surely be exposed to more young, female staffers.”

She told MinnPost that, upon hearing the stories about Swiderski, she was livid, and she called Radinovich to tell him it was a “humongous issue” and that he had to do something about it. (Radinovich, who is now running for Nolan’s seat, declined to comment on the record for this story.)

Radinovich followed up with several Nolan staffers and, according to several sources, tried to sit down with Nolan to tell him about the brewing outrage over Swiderski — and to urge the congressman to fire him. Ultimately, Nolan was persuaded to once again let go of his loyal aide, and Radinovich was tasked with delivering the news to Swiderski.

In an email dated April 24 to campaign staff and advisors, Radinovich acknowledged that Swiderski would no longer be doing work for the campaign. “For the past six weeks, Jim Swiderski helped generate talking points and content for the program,” he wrote. “Though Jim’s services proved valuable, we’ll be in-housing that for the time being. As a longtime friend and employee of Congressman Nolan, I suspect we’ll continue to see Jim volunteer and be involved in the campaign in other ways. I wish him well.”

Federal campaign finance records show Swiderski’s first and last pay stub: $1,666.67 from the Nolan for Congress Volunteer Committee.

Nolan’s statement to MinnPost admitted that Swiderski should not have been hired to do work for his 2016 campaign. “I was aware that the former employee was retained as a vendor in this capacity by the Campaign committee,” Nolan said. “An employee of the Congressional office who had made one of the harassment complaints went on to volunteer for the campaign committee. When she became aware of the hire of the vendor to undertake campaign research, she issued a complaint.”

“At that time, the campaign manager brought the matter to my attention and the vendor, then an independent contractor, was promptly separated from the campaign committee. The vendor’s engagement was limited and off-site.”

“I fully support the actions taken by my chief of staff and campaign leadership,” Nolan said. “Sexual harassment is not condoned in my Congressional office or by my campaign committee.”

Different attitudes about harassment

It was a relief to many women in Nolan’s operation that Radinovich’s prediction did not really come true: Most do not recall seeing much of Swiderski or hearing from him after he was let go from the campaign.

But his brief reemergence, so soon after what happened in Washington, still rankles them. Former staffers believe that Nolan felt guilty about Swiderski losing his job, and thought it would not be a problem to give his old friend some paid work he could do remotely.

“I get the sense he was paid to help with Rick Nolan’s guilt for firing him,” Amanda says. “It felt like he was choosing,” Rachel said. “It felt like he was saying, OK, you’re off in your corner and we’re still going to hire Jim Swiderski.”

But those who were angered by Swiderski’s return placed as much blame on Nolan’s top aides as they did on Nolan himself. Aides argued that the congressman was sometimes ill-served by an inner circle that was unwilling to push back against him or tell him something he didn’t want to hear.

“You have someone in the office who’s creepy, he crosses a line, and gets a very gentle — honorable, even — retirement,” Natalie says of Swiderski. “But to rehire him and put him in the same working environment of his victim was professional malpractice on the part of Jodie Torkelson, Jeff Anderson and Rick Nolan.”

The inclination of Nolan and his staff to give Swiderski a gentle exit from D.C. and to rehire him on the campaign, those involved say, was born out of loyalty and their long history together. Swiderski was one of Nolan’s first and most loyal aides, and former staffers said that the congressman treated his legislative director like a younger brother. Swiderski also worked alongside Torkelson during Nolan’s first stint in D.C. in the 1970s. (When Nolan returned to Congress in 2013, The Hill newspaper did a story on Swiderski, Torkelson, and other aides reuniting to work for him again, some 40 years later.)

Multiple sources said that Nolan and his inner circle had a strong tendency to trust longtime aides over people newer to the operation. “And Swiderski is literally a day-one Nolan dude,” one former staffer said.

“I think if Jim looked him in the face and said, ‘I just hugged her, I was trying to be friendly,’ I think Rick would just believe him,” Amanda says. “The face value of, Jim is an older man and Rachel’s a younger woman, I think in Rick’s mind one of those is more believable.”

But many also believe that Nolan, Torkelson, and others simply did not consider Swiderski’s behavior to be that serious a problem, and said their ideas about the workplace and gender roles were formed in a different time, when such behavior was commonplace.

Nolan, who is 74, would sometimes tell off-color jokes and stories, according to some former staffers. A favorite, allegedly, was one in which Nolan recalled his time in the Minnesota State Legislature in the early 1970s and said the male lawmakers would play a game in which they were blindfolded and tasked with determining which female secretary worked for who — by groping them.

In an audio recording of Nolan that a former staffer sent to MinnPost, the congressman lamented white-collar workplace norms around gender. “A woman’s got every right to be as fragile as she wants, but I’m telling you, women in the factories are a lot tougher,” he said during a meeting with staff in his office. “My daughter works in construction, and she deals with it all the time, and she knows when to tell these guys to just buzz off. Because if they operated at the same level we do in a professional environment, there’d be nobody left in the construction trades.”

“It doesn’t mean that anybody’s wrong, I’m just telling you, there’s a lot more fragility in the professional world [than] there is in the industrial and the hard-working world,” Nolan said.

Rachel says that Nolan never explicitly addressed how Swiderski treated her, nor did he apologize for it. He would acknowledge it, she recalls, by pointing out Swiderski’s house whenever she was driving him to events in the district and remarking, “there’s your boyfriend’s house.”

“He’s stuck in when he was in Congress in the ’70s, that this is okay,” Rachel says. “That this is fine behavior and if something was really wrong, she would have spoken up.”

Former staffers also said that Torkelson revealed through her conduct and conversations with them that she did not think Swiderski’s actions were problematic enough to warrant him losing his job. (A detail several people brought up was that Torkelson worked for President Bill Clinton as White House director of administration at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. As part of Kenneth Starr’s inquiry, Torkelson had to testify in front of a grand jury in March 1998; reports from the time say scrutiny centered on Lewinsky being transferred to an internship at the Pentagon.)

One staffer recalled Torkelson saying that Swiderski had lost his “dream job” over the harassment allegations. Another staffer confronted Torkelson after Swiderski was hired on the 2016 campaign and remembers her saying “he lost his career, what more do you want?”

‘It needs to be known’

Rachel, Amanda, and others said they remained unhappy about the handling of the Swiderski situation for years but, as they went on to take jobs elsewhere, had accepted leaving it in the past — even more so when Nolan announced in February that he would be retiring.

But when Nolan surprisingly jumped back into politics in June by agreeing to be governor candidate Lori Swanson’s running mate — giving Nolan a shot at becoming Minnesota’s lieutenant governor — they changed their minds. (Anderson, Nolan’s district director, is Swanson’s campaign manager.)

“I was going to let it go,” Rachel said. “But to have him running for office again, it frightens me that he’s okay with having predators there, and I think as someone who’s gonna keep running for office, it needs to be known that he’s okay with them being around. And not only that, that he’ll rehire them after knowing.”

“I thought, maybe I should just leave it in the past,” Amanda said. “It was bad and it was handled terribly, but what good could come from me speaking out? I still care about the congressman, as crazy as that might sound. I didn’t want to hurt him in that way.

“When I found out he was running for office again, I felt he needed to answer for those things. … I think he needs to answer for things he did and did not do, that he should have done. It doesn’t feel good. It’s not like, ‘Ha ha, I’m finally going to screw him.’ It sucks. This is the last thing I wanted to do. At a certain point, it’s not my choice anymore.”

Some former Nolan staffers were quick to say his handling of the issue was rooted in generational differences, and more than one said he “comes from a different time.”

Natalie rejected that framing. “Fuck that, he comes from a different time,” she said. “He’s kind of your creepy grandpa who you love and slips a $20 in your hand, and also makes creepy jokes when his creepy friends are around. I don’t know how you deal with that when you’re trying to build a career and men like him are the gatekeepers.”

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Susan Herridge on 07/19/2018 - 03:30 pm.

    wow

    Great reporting Sam. Aside from everything else the interview subjects mentioned, how could anyone that just experienced the last year of “Me Too” think that this would be OK?

  2. Submitted by Eric House on 07/19/2018 - 03:20 pm.

    Lack of Judgement

    “Different times’ doesn’t cut it for me. That might explain the loyalty that went too far the first time- but not the rehire. Rehiring someone like Swiderski shows a deep lack of critical judgement skills for any one, much less a politician running for a state office. Any thoughts I had of going with the surprise ticket of Swanson & Nolan just evaporated.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/20/2018 - 06:21 am.

      Bad Judgement Times 2

      This may be a case of bad judgement on the part of Swanson too. Maybe her campaign for governor was hatched hastily over the weekend of the convention, and her choice of Nolan was also hasty. Or had she done some ground work on a possible campaign for guv in the winter or spring? Did she have talks with Nolan weeks or months before the convention?

      If either case is true, it raises serious questions about the judgement of her and her campaign, particular because she is a lawyer.

      Republican voters seem to delight in supporting guys like Nolan, a sort of adult on-set oppositional defiance disorder way of stickin’ it to The Man; Democrats seem to have a higher standard than “If you tell me I can’t vote for that guy I definitely will!”

  3. Submitted by Dianne Arnold on 07/19/2018 - 05:16 pm.

    Stuck in the Past

    I expect people running for high office to be open to change and have the ability to learn new things. Silly me, I guess! This situation with Nolan illustrates perfectly what is wrong with too many elected officials today. They’ve been stuck in the rut of doing things the old way so they can get re-elected and maximize the gravy train (i.e., their pensions).
    Really disappointing. Nolan needs to retire — and, maybe sooner rather than later.

  4. Submitted by B. Dalager on 07/20/2018 - 10:36 am.

    Misleading phrasing…

    Having known Joe Radinovich for several years now, I’ve always found his integrity unimpeachable, so I reached out to him to find out why he would not speak on the record. This is not the main point of the story, but seems important to point out…the way it’s phrased in this article, it seems like Joe specifically refused to comment on the record, when in fact he was actually confirming details for the reporter. He was not asked for an on-the-record statement. He provided exactly that on Facebook and to other media, so it’s misleading to imply he was unwilling to comment.

    Here is his statement:
    “My statement on today’s MinnPost article about allegations of sexual harassment by a former employee of the Rick Nolan D.C. office and later 2016 campaign:

    When I was the campaign manager for Rick Nolan’s 2016 re-election, I was encouraged to hire a staffer who had previously worked in the Congressman’s official office.
    When allegations of past sexual misconduct were brought to my attention, I took immediate action and insisted the campaign terminate its relationship with Swiderski, ultimately firing him myself.

    Every workplace should be free from the fear of harassment. I stood with the women in this story then, and I continue to do so today.”

    • Submitted by Darryl Carter on 07/23/2018 - 12:32 pm.

      Misleading phrasing

      Thank you, B. Dalager and Joe Radinovich. The key question might be “encouraged by whom” ?

  5. Submitted by Harry Burns on 07/20/2018 - 01:05 pm.

    News?

    Why is this news now, some 3 years later? Could it be that some of those involved now are working on the campaigns of other gubernatorial candidates? If so, wouldn’t that be relevant to the story?

    • Submitted by B. Dalager on 07/20/2018 - 03:11 pm.

      Or…

      Could it be that we’re finally in an environment where women are believed?

    • Submitted by Christopher Moseng on 07/20/2018 - 03:43 pm.

      occam’s razor

      Because Nolan’s running for office. If he weren’t, it wouldn’t be news. That he’s running for office isn’t the fault of the people who got harassed.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/20/2018 - 06:55 pm.

    Allegations

    Are just that — accusations by someone about someone else’s behavior.
    The question is what kind of evidence supports them.

  7. Submitted by John Boyt on 07/22/2018 - 10:15 am.

    A Serious Flaw

    Instead of thinking of ideas and substance, Swanson chose geography: ‘Rick’s from up there, so he’ll be perfect.’ She didn’t bother to think with sufficient care over the kind of manager Nolan is – the way he ran his office. Now imagine her ability to appoint 24 commissioners as governor. The logical flaw of favorites and geography over quality of character grows exponentially.

    To those who see this as a hatchet job, take off your political lenses and look at what the facts of this story tell you about Nolan. If that doesn’t work for you, imagine you have a daughter working as an intern in Nolan’s office trying to get her career off the ground.

  8. Submitted by Peter Spooner on 07/22/2018 - 10:23 am.

    Nolan / Swanson

    I truly thought Nolan was going to retire, and wish he had. I generally trusted him as a public servant, at least as much as one should trust anyone in a political office or running for office.

    I applaud the female interns and staffers who publicly tell their side of this story. Many of them are caught between terrible alternatives, and their courage to come forward is appreciated. Hopefully, every person who tells a story of being preyed upon makes it easier for others, and less likely that predation and objectification in workplaces are ignored.

    It’s obvious how deeply ingrained sexual predation and objectification are in workplaces of all types. These behaviors seem to be like an addiction. To an addict, addictive behaviors always trump common sense, careful thought and ethics. Otherwise why would predators repeatedly take such risks of damaging their own reputations, careers and livelihoods?

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