Rubio fires chief of staff for improper relations with lower level employees

Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in May, 2017. Rubio said he heard of the allegations against chief of staff Clint Reed on Friday afternoon and fired him on Saturday.
Sen. Marco Rubio speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in May, 2017. Rubio said he heard of the allegations against chief of staff Clint Reed on Friday afternoon and fired him on Saturday. Getty Images

As the nation grapples with a wake-up call on workplace sexual harassment and assault, Senator Marco Rubio, the most prominent figure in Florida politics, abruptly fired his top staffer.

But Clint Reed’s dismissal Saturday shortly before midnight is largely a mystery.

A four-paragraph statement issued by Rubio mostly served to absolve the Florida Republican for any potential political fallout, and the misdeeds of a man who was earning more than $165,000 a year in taxpayer funds are largely unknown.

Rubio was apparently made aware of Reed’s conduct directly on Friday afternoon. Within 24 hours a man who held senior positions on Rubio’s presidential and senate campaigns before transitioning to Capitol Hill was gone.

The statement said a hasty investigation by Rubio and his top lawyer determined that Reed engaged in inappropriate behavior with subordinates. It’s not clear how long Reed’s behavior persisted or how many employees, people whose careers could be altered with the praise or disapproval from a powerful Capitol Hill staffer like Reed, were affected.

Rubio’s official line is that Reed was fired for violating “policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates” and that his improper relationship “led to actions which in my judgment amounted to threats to withhold employment benefits.”

Beyond that, very little is known.

In a statement on Sunday night to the Miami Herald, Rubio criticized the Herald’s reporting and said Reed engaged in serious wrongdoing and harassment.

“I have a duty to protect everyone employed in my office from harassment and injury,” Rubio said. “Contrary to your erroneous reporting, our investigation was neither hasty nor our decision abrupt. Once I discovered irrefutable evidence of serious wrongdoing and harassment, I was both morally and legally compelled to take immediate action and remove any possibility of further harm from occurring. The identity of those harmed and the details of this matter are being withheld at the express request of those who suffered injury. The decision on whether to come forward publicly is theirs alone to make. If at any point in the future they wish to publicly disclose any further details about this matter they will have my full support and cooperation.”

Rubio then criticized the Herald for inquiring about further details, and said victims can choose to keep their names withheld.

“If victims of harassment come to believe that they cannot report harassment without having their identities revealed, it may discourage those who do not want to be publicly identified from reporting cases of harassment in the future,” Rubio said.

A source briefed on the matter said Rubio was taken by surprise when he learned of the allegations on Friday afternoon.

“He certainly had no indication anything was amiss before Friday,” said the source, adding that Rubio and his top lawyer did a series of interviews with multiple individuals as part of their investigation.

“By early afternoon he had seen and heard enough to do what he needed to do,” the source said.

In his statement, Rubio stressed that he has taken action to “ensure that those impacted by this conduct have access to any services they may require now or in the future.”

But congressional employees who are experiencing workplace harassment or assault and want to do something about it face a long and secretive process which can lead to taxpayer-funded settlements that often include nondisclosure agreements.

Sexual harassment victims in Congress have 180 days to bring a claim to the U.S. Congress Office of Compliance, the office responsible for handling workplace complaints. They must complete up to 30 days of mandatory counseling with a further 15 days to decide whether to bring their claims to mediation. If they don’t want mediation, they’re out of options.

If victims do opt for mediation, then a taxpayer-funded lawyer who represents the congressional office gets involved. If no settlement is reached, there’s a 30-day cooling-off period before a victim can file a lawsuit or request an official hearing. If a settlement is reached, it is usually paid for with taxpayer money and accomplished with a nondisclosure agreement, meaning the general public won’t know what happened.

Rubio traveled from Florida to Washington on Saturday evening to fire Reed. Reed could not be reached for comment and Rubio’s office asked for privacy, citing the wishes of those victimized by Reed’s conduct.

“We have taken steps to ensure that those impacted by this conduct have access to any services they may require now or in the future,” Rubio said in a statement. “Pursuant to the wishes of those victimized by this conduct, we will not be disclosing any further details about the incidents which occurred. We will be formally notifying the appropriate Congressional and Senate administrative offices of this matter when they return to work Monday morning.”

Reed, an Arkansas native, had worked as Rubio’s top staffer since January 2017 after managing the Florida Republican’s successful 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. He also worked on Rubio’s presidential campaign as a senior adviser and Iowa State director. He held previous posts with the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Senator Marco Rubio talks in Miami about the possibility of a government shutdown if an agreement on DACA is not reached.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.