President Joe Biden nominated his political ally Eric Garcetti as ambassador to India, the White House said on Friday, setting up a tricky confirmation battle amid claims the Los Angeles mayor failed to act on sexual harassment allegations leveled at his adviser.
Garcetti, 50, was long seen as frontrunner for the post and, if confirmed, would be taking on one of the most difficult diplomatic jobs at a time when India remains in the grip of the coronavirus crisis.
But his nomination sets up tough Senate hearings. Republicans will have plenty of ammunition from a lawsuit alleging that Rick Jacobs, a former top staffer, sexually harassed one of the mayor's police bodyguards while Garcetti ignored it or laughed it off.
Matthew Garza claimed Jacobs sexually harassed him on multiple occasions.
Garza, who spent some six years on the mayor's security detail, said Garcetti had witnessed Jacobs' alleged harassment several times and failed to take any action to correct his behavior.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Joe Biden could face an uphill battle against Senate Republicans after nominating LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (pictured last January) as the US ambassador to India. Garcetti's former bodyguard sued the city last year claiming mayoral adviser Rick Jacobs sexually harassed him on multiple occasions and the mayor allegedly failed to intervene
The photo, obtained this week by The @latimes, shows Jacobs placing his hand near the crotch of a civic activist as the two posed for a group photo at the U.S. Conference of Mayors convention in 2017. Garcetti stands next to the men, smiling and giving a double thumbs-up gesture. pic.twitter.com/zqyjZe4hM0— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) November 21, 2020
Garcetti is not a defendant in the case but testified in a deposition taken earlier this year.
The mayor flatly denied allegations that he kept mum when Jacobs 'screamed' an anti-Asian slur at another aide out the window of Garcetti's car and that Jacobs sexually harassed Garza in his presence 'hundreds' of times.
Garcetti's nomination was announced along with those of Democratic fundraiser Denise Bauer to serve as ambassador to France and Monaco, career foreign service officer Peter Haas as ambassador to Bangladesh and former Obama-era national security aide Bernadette Meehan as ambassador to Chile.
In Garcetti, Biden will be seen as rewarding a loyal ally, someone who mulled his own 2020 run before stepping aside to manage the COVID crisis.
He then entered Biden's inner circle, joining the committee to vet potential vice presidential contenders.
Now he must survive his own vetting.
The case filed by Garza also includes the partially unsealed testimony of former Obama White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard, who claims Garcetti expressed awareness that Jacobs' behavior had exposed the mayor's office to legal jeopardy.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
At least one other person who worked for Garcetti and Jacobs testified that they saw examples of the latter's alleged behavior and according to former senior aide Henry Casas, it was 'common knowledge' in the office that 'it was very inappropriate.'
An ambassadorial nomination normally follows an extensive FBI background check and screening by White House counsel.
Ambassadors report directly to the president on national security matters and rule over US embassy facilities that often include a Central Intelligence Agency station.
Section 28 of the SF86 form that nominees must fill out as a detailed roadmap for the background check, instructs them to disclose 'involvement in non-criminal court actions' and 'provide details of the nature of the action.'
Garza's lawyer Greg Smith said he has not heard from the FBI or the White House but believes the sealed deposition and other testimony in the case are salient to Garcetti's potential nomination because they contain information 'that would be very relevant, that speak directly to the candor of the mayor.'
'The FBI can take the steps that are required to get the depositions released,' Smith told DailyMail.com.
'If there's something in the depositions that could shed light on Garcetti's fitness to act as ambassador it seems to be that that's something that they should look into.'
In October, Garcetti cut ties with Jacobs (left) after journalist Yashar Ali (right) accused him of forcibly kissing and hugging him multiple times. Jacobs has denied all claims of misconduct
Yashar Ali attempted to confront Jacobs about his alleged behavior in a series of texts last July, when Garza launched the sexual harassment suit
In his lawsuit, first filed last July, Garza claims Jacobs subjected him 'on hundreds of occasions to unwanted and unwelcome sexual comments and touching, including tight hugs and shoulder rubbing' as well as as graphic 'comments about having 'rough sex' with his gay partner(s)..'
A December 9 amended complaint states 'Mayor Garcetti was present on approximately half of the occasions when Jacobs behaved in this way, and witnessed Jacobs' conduct, but he took no action to correct Jacobs' obviously harassing behavior….'
In a sworn deposition taken on February 8, Garcetti denied ever witnessing or hearing allegations of any untoward behavior by Jacobs.
Garcetti suggested that if people claim he was present for any such episodes the plaintiff and witnesses may simply be fabricating them.
'Well, based on accusations of that [sic] I witnessed things, it called into question for me whether or not these things have happened.…. your closest friends can do things that are wrong…. I have not witnessed that, and I have never witnessed that,' Garcetti said.
In seeking an ambassadorship, Garcetti - who earlier flamed out as a contender for a Biden Cabinet post - may be trying to cash in on loyalty he showed by backing Biden when he was languishing in the polls prior to winning the Democratic primary in South Carolina last year.
The lawsuit also claims Jacobs (pictured in 2016) hurled anti-Asian slurs at another city aide
That victory resurrected Biden's chances and essentially launched him into the White House.
There has been relatively little drama to Biden nominee confirmation hearings thus far, but testing Garcetti's deposition could garner particular attention given that the case involves a rare high-profile '#hetoo' allegation by a man against another man.
At least one leading Democratic advocate for harassment victims, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who led the charge to force liberal Al Franken out of the Senate, passed up the opportunity to comment on Garcetti's potential nomination when contacted by DailyMail.com through her spokesman.
But for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it could be a different story - particularly for its GOP members.
The panel will not only privately review the FBI background check but it could also mount a probe of its own.
Though chaired by a Democrat, the panel's GOP members include once-and-likely-future presidential hopefuls Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida who may find it hard to pass up the opportunity to make headlines.
A spokesperson for Foreign Relations Committee Republicans said by email that they would not 'not officially begin our vetting process for a nominee until there is a formal nomination and we have received all the requested paperwork from the nominee, prospective employing agency, and the White House.'
Experts said the committee is likely to take a hard look at the case.
President Joe Biden is facing increasing criticism for not yet nominating more than 90 ambassadors this far into his term. Eric Garcetti (pictured with the president in 2019) was reported to be a top contender for the US ambassador to India
Garcetti is reportedly trying to cash in on loyalty he showed by backing Biden when he was languishing in the polls prior to winning the Democratic primary in South Carolina last year
'When you've got complicated civil litigation with sealed depositions and allegations of sexual harassment, of course the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is going to want to take a hard look at all the documents surrounding this matter before moving any nomination forward,' said Elliot Berke, a Republican ethics attorney who has helped over a dozen nominees both Democratic and Republican through Senate confirmation.
He also said he 'would absolutely expect the White House Counsel's office is going to want access to those depositions,' including sealed ones.
Berke said this could be done in ways that protect witness identity and perhaps involve the judge allowing in-camera review.
Among the already-public evidence is a photo showing Garcetti grinning and giving a double thumbs-up as Jacobs' hand hovers in front of the crotch of another man standing to Garcetti's immediate right.