Sex Harassment Claims, Leaked Emails Dominate Last Weeks Of DeMaio-Peters Race
Maybe the only certain thing about the final weeks of the 52nd Congressional District race is that an angry former campaign staffer without a nondisclosure agreement is a major headache for Republican candidate Carl DeMaio.
Todd Bosnich, DeMaio’s former policy director, says he was fired for telling DeMaio to stop sexually harassing him. DeMaio says Bosnich was fired for plagiarizing a pension report.
Ever since the sexual harassment allegations were first mentioned publicly by a reporter during a DeMaio news conference on Oct. 8, the DeMaio campaign has had to respond to accusations of sexual misconduct, bribery and attempts at a cover-up.
52nd Congressional District
Geography: Runs north from Coronado to La Jolla, and then east to include Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch, Poway and Rancho Bernardo.
Party breakdown: 33.6% Republican, 32.1% Democrat, 29.2% independent
Source: California Secretary of State
They’ve cast a shadow over a tight race that has DeMaio challenging Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. Both are former San Diego city councilmen, and their contest has gained national attention because it’s considered a toss-up. Millions of campaign dollars have poured into the race.
The accusations this month have caused old issues to resurface, including the plagiarized report and a mysterious break-in at the DeMaio campaign headquarters. The San Diego County District Attorney's Office announced last week that it does not have enough evidence to file criminal charges involving the sexual misconduct allegations against DeMaio or for the break-in at his campaign headquarters.
Even that pronouncement has not stopped new stories involving the DeMaio campaign from emerging.
For example, an NBC San Diego report said the FBI is investigating harassing emails sent to Bosnich. Bosnich, who is working with a law firm and intends to sue DeMaio, has also leaked emails about the campaign. Some of these leaks are getting reported by national news organizations, including an email allegedly from DeMaio that mocks a Peters staffer with a photo of an overweight woman in a bra eating a chicken nugget. All of the leaks seem selected to embarrass and damage the DeMaio campaign.
The news reports have forced DeMaio and his staff to play a sort of whack-a-mole game as they work to try to deflect, discredit and deny what’s being said. And yet his support among likely voters remains strong. The latest 10News/U-T San Diego poll shows DeMaio in a virtual tie with Peters.
DeMaio wants to move on from the negative publicity. When KPBS sent his campaign questions about the sexual harassment allegations, leaked emails and when Bosnich was fired, DeMaio spokesman Dave McCulloch replied with one sentence: “We are done responding to outrageous lies and believe the District Attorney’s statement last week rejecting this politically-motivated smear speaks for itself.”
Peters, meanwhile, won’t be interviewed about the issues swirling around the DeMaio campaign. Alex Roth, his spokesman, also wouldn’t answer a question about when the Peters campaign first learned of the sexual harassment allegations against DeMaio.
Roth instead gave a statement: “This is Carl DeMaio's problem, no one else's; it's between Carl and his former staff member, and it's now the subject of an FBI investigation. Carl needs to stop blaming everyone else around him and step up and take responsibility and answer all the unanswered questions swirling around him and his campaign."
Who is Todd Bosnich?
Bosnich, who just turned 29, grew up in Del Mar and has always been a registered Republican. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 2008 with a major in political science, and then moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Tulare. He was on Nunes’ staff until the beginning of 2009.
Bosnich also worked for a company called NCC Media in 2012, from Aug. 13 to Oct. 5, as a temporary sales coordinator for a political team. Neither former employer would comment on Bosnich.
On Sept. 5, 2013, about three months after DeMaio announced his congressional run, Bosnich posted on Facebook:
“Hey Guys! Just wanted to let the DC folks (know) that haven't heard yet that I am moving back to the great city of San Diego on October 4th to work for the Carl DeMaio campaign. Going to miss this amazing city that I have called home, but am looking forward to reconecting [sic] with my southern California brethren.”
He followed up with a post touting a Republican agenda:
“Well, hopefully without Obama at the top of the ticket things will turn out differently in 2014. Also, the Democrats will be hard pressed to trot out their usual ‘war on women’ line because Carl's pro-choice and will keep the debate focused on the bread and butter issues of the economy and jobs. It's going to be a tough fight, but he represents a new generation of Republicans that I think, and hope, will be successful in making the GOP competitive in every area of the country”
A month later, Bosnich was living in Del Mar and working as DeMaio’s political director. He told KPBS he’d reached out to DeMaio about working for him because he thought DeMaio shared his moderate Republican stances. Bosnich is gay and was excited about the possibility of helping elect the first openly gay Republican to Congress.
What Bosnich Says About Unwanted Sexual Contact
Two weeks ago, Bosnich’s description of unwanted sexual contact from DeMaio aired nationally on CNN. Bosnich then told the same story to KPBS.
He told KPBS that the sexual contact began in December 2013, when DeMaio grabbed Bosnich’s crotch after giving him a ride from a campaign social event at a bar.
Bosnich said DeMaio’s sexual harassment of him continued through February 2014, after the campaign staffer was given his own office and was more likely to be alone. DeMaio would massage his shoulders and kiss his neck, Bosnich said.
The campaign staffer said he didn’t know what to do. Bosnich said he wanted to preserve his career so he put up with the behavior. He said he began trying to time his schedule to be in the office when he knew DeMaio wouldn’t be there.
Bosnich told KPBS that the sexual harassment culminated on April 30, when he went to work early and found himself alone with DeMaio at the campaign headquarters. He said DeMaio called out to him and asked him to come into his office. When Bosnich opened the door, he said he saw DeMaio with his pants down at his knees, masturbating and smiling.
DeMaio told CNN none of this happened. His campaign declined to answer questions from KPBS about whether the incidents occurred.
What Bosnich Says Happened Next
A few days later, on May 5, Bosnich said he talked with Tommy Knepper, DeMaio’s campaign manager, about DeMaio's behavior.
"I wasn't saying (DeMaio’s) sexually harassing me,” Bosnich said. “I wasn't making a threat or saying I was going to leave."
Bosnich said Knepper didn’t acknowledge the problem, and nothing changed.
About two weeks later, Bosnich said he worked up the courage to confront DeMaio. He said he met alone with him on Sunday, May 18. He recounted the conversation to KPBS:
“I told him that if you can't stop this behavior, you need to drop out before the primary and let the party get someone else elected who can handle it. I remember him looking at me like he was looking straight through me. I think the only word he said the whole time was, ‘OK, OK, OK.’ At the end he said, ‘OK, I understand,’ then he shook my hand and said, ‘Have a good night.’”
DeMaio’s campaign declined to answer a question from KPBS about whether these meetings happened.
Bosnich went into work the next morning, on May 19, and said he was immediately called into Knepper’s office. He said Knepper told him that DeMaio has lost trust in him and he was being fired. He said Knepper offered him a job with the San Diego County Republican Party plus $50,000, and asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
“I was in a state of shock. There were a million thoughts racing through my head,” Bosnich told KPBS. “Then I said, ‘f--- this,’ and I stormed out of the office. That was the last time I was in the campaign office.”
Bosnich said he refused to sign the agreement. He said access to his campaign email address and the campaign office was immediately cut off.
The DeMaio campaign declined to answer a question from KPBS about whether Bosnich was offered money or asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement.
What DeMaio Says Happened
DeMaio would not be interviewed for this story. When CNN interviewed him, he said Bosnich was fired for a different reason: plagiarism.
On May 12, DeMaio’s campaign released a report on “pension double dippers.”
Within hours, the National Journal reported that the DeMaio campaign plagiarized the political magazine's report.
By the end of the day, DeMaio apologized to the National Journal. He told them his staff had produced the report, but said, “I don't throw my staff under the bus.”
The pension report didn’t come up again until two weeks ago in the CNN story. That’s when DeMaio said Bosnich had been fired for plagiarism and was retaliating by making up stories about sexual harassment.
DeMaio wouldn’t provide documentation showing Bosnich plagiarized and won’t say exactly what day Bosnich was fired.
If Bosnich was fired for plagiarism, it seems it didn’t happen right away. There are a few signs showing he was still working for the campaign after the plagiarism was reported on May 12:
- May 15, 2014: An email from DeMaio is sent to his staffers, including Bosnich, according to the Washington Examiner. It says “Thursday - busy week. lets push to get it all done” and then includes a list of tasks originally sent on May 12. Bosnich has several assignments, including “draft infrastructure plan” and “finalizing schedule for infrastructure press conference.” The infrastructure press conference was held May 20. DeMaio’s campaign wouldn’t respond to a question about whether this email was authentic.
- May 15, 2014: U-T San Diego published a letter to the editor from Bosnich praising DeMaio’s pension report. Voice of San Diego reported last week that the letter wasn’t supposed to have Bosnich’s name on it, but it shows Bosnich was likely still working for the campaign.
- Alison Rentschler, a former DeMaio campaign staffer who was later fired, told KPBS that Bosnich did not write the pension report. “I can confirm Todd was not fired for plagiarism,” she said in a statement. “(DeMaio) was very involved with the report and referred to it as his ‘baby.’”
- Rentschler said Bosnich continued to work for the campaign for several days after the plagiarism was reported.
After Bosnich Says He Was Fired
On May 19, seven days after the National Journal plagiarism incident, Bosnich said he was fired. If that’s true, he still did a few things after his termination to support the DeMaio campaign:
- May 19, 2014: According to Bosnich, he regularly made edits to the Scott Peters and Carl DeMaio Wikipedia pages using the name “VickieJR” (his mother’s name is Victoria). If true, his last edit was on May 19. It’s against Wikipedia’s terms of service to edit pages to promote your employer’s interests. DeMaio’s campaign declined to answer a question from KPBS about whether staffers edited Wikipedia pages.
- May 21, 2014: Bosnich sent a few tweets, including one attacking Peters. Nothing is again posted on Bosnich’s Twitter account until Oct. 10, 2014.
About a week after Bosnich said he was fired, he said he began receiving anonymous phone calls and emails threatening him to stay quiet. He said his mother also received a threatening email.
Campaign Office Break-In
After 9 p.m. on May 27, a break-in occurred at DeMaio’s Miramar campaign headquarters. There are inconsistencies about what happened.
10News reported at the time that the break-in “might have been an inside job because of the entry point coming from an adjoining office and the fact that a file cabinet with files inside was untouched, while another was stripped of several hundred dollars worth of gasoline debit cards.”
But a couple of days after the burglary, DeMaio told the Armstrong and Getty show on KFMB that “nothing was taken, this was not an economic robbery, it was political vandalism.”
Armstrong and Getty asked DeMaio who might have done it, but DeMaio wouldn’t speculate.
Four months later, during his CNN interview about Bosnich’s sexual harassment allegations, DeMaio pinned the break-in on Bosnich:
“He got caught for the damage that he did to the campaign and now he's manufacturing in essence a cover story to explain away his actions."
Then on Oct. 17, during a debate on NBC San Diego’s “Politically Speaking,” DeMaio said a “campaign playbook” was stolen during the break-in.
DeMaio said of whoever committed the burglary:
“They were not trying to steal things from our campaign. They were only trying to limit our ability to communicate with voters. More importantly, something was stolen that day. And that was our entire campaign strategy book. And Mr. Peters, I just want to ask a very simple question, did your campaign come into possession of our strategy book with all of our direct mail pieces in the last five months?”
Peters responded that in early June, “information was forwarded to our campaign, which we immediately turned over to the police.” Peters said he never saw the playbook, that his campaign gave it to the police within 24 hours and that his campaign manager “looked at it enough to know what it was.”
Suddenly the Peters campaign was drawn into the drama and had to respond to questions about how the playbook was delivered to them. Spokesman Roth wouldn’t answer that, instead issuing the statement:
“We do not know what a campaign playbook is; nor has our campaign ever received anything that could be characterized as ‘a campaign playbook’ as Mr. DeMaio called it. To reiterate, our campaign staff received information in early June that we immediately transmitted in its entirety to the police. This is nothing more than an attempt by Mr. DeMaio to divert attention away from the Filner-esque sexual harassment allegations that have been made against him.”
The DeMaio campaign wouldn’t answer a question from KPBS about why DeMaio did not publicly mention the missing playbook at the time of the break-in.
The Slater Interview
Two days after the break-in, on May 29, KFMB radio host Mike Slater said he received an email from Bosnich asking if they could talk. Slater told KPBS this month that Bosnich hinted at the subject matter, saying “something like, ‘You would be upset too if your boss masturbated in front of you.’”
Slater said he booked Bosnich for an early morning interview on Monday, June 2.
Bosnich didn’t show up, Slater said. The radio host then rescheduled the interview for 4 p.m. that afternoon.
Looking back, Slater said of Bosnich missing the first interview, “I chalked it up as someone who was nervous to tell his story.”
Slater and Bosnich taped the interview with the intention of airing it the following morning, on June 3, the actual day of the primary election. In it, Bosnich described the same sexual harassment allegations he would later make to CNN.
Bosnich actually had to tell Slater the story twice, because the host said they taped it once for radio and once for TV.
Slater said he had “every intention of airing” the interview. “Those were quite the accusations,” he said. “It was definitely a newsworthy story.” But after the interview was taped, Slater said he emailed Bosnich to ask if he had any proof of his allegations.
“We needed something, otherwise it was just slander,” Slater said. “Maybe legally we could air it, but ethically we couldn't.”
Slater said Bosnich responded to his email by saying he would get back to Slater, but he never did. Slater said he hasn’t spoken to Bosnich since.
The interview didn’t air, which Slater said was his decision. He said he is not a supporter of DeMaio’s, and that he liked Kirk Jorgensen, another Republican who ran for Peters’ seat and lost.
The following day, June 3, DeMaio and Peters easily advanced to the general election.
Police Get Involved
In early June after the primary, Bosnich said two San Diego police sex crime detectives came to his home in Del Mar to ask if he'd been the victim of a sex crime. Bosnich provided the detectives’ names to KPBS, which verified they were in fact assigned to sex crimes.
The Police Department would not confirm whether the meeting Bosnich described happened.
Around the same time, Bosnich hired the Gomez Trial Lawyers firm. The firm has handled high-profile cases, including a $10 million settlement with Toyota in 2009. The firm’s founder, John Gomez, has also donated to several Democratic campaigns, including $1,000 to Scott Peters in 2012.
Bibi Fell, the lawyer assigned to Bosnich’s case, told KPBS that on June 14 she asked Bosnich to take a polygraph test about the sexual harassment claims. He did, and it showed his answers were "truthful," she said.
Soon after that, Bosnich said he was approached by different San Diego police detectives who asked about the burglary. Bosnich cooperated with the detectives, his lawyer said. The Police Department would not confirm whether this meeting happened.
The Leaked Slater Interview
After the Slater interview didn’t air, Bosnich said he thought he was finished talking about DeMaio.
”I was planning to just move on with my life at this point,” he told KPBS.
But then Chris Frates, a CNN reporter, approached Bosnich in early August. Frates had a copy of the Slater interview, Bosnich said.
Bosnich said he didn’t give the Slater interview to CNN. Slater said he didn’t release the interview either.
Slater said he thinks he gave Bosnich a copy of the interview after they taped it but doesn’t remember. He said if a guest on his show asks for a copy of the interview, he’ll give it to him.
“I don't remember (Bosnich) asking for it, but that had to be what happened,” Slater said.
Slater said he doesn’t think anyone else at KFMB would have released the interview.
“It was in our files, in our computers. It would have been in a folder in a folder in a folder. No one would have been able to find it,” Slater said.
Bosnich said he “inferred from (CNN reporter) Frates that I could either cooperate and do the story or he was just going to run (the Slater interview) without me.” So he taped an interview with CNN.
In August and September, Frates tried to get DeMaio to respond to the allegations. He describes the sequence of events in his story: First, DeMaio’s campaign asked for time to respond, then sent Frates to “high-powered Washington attorney Ben Ginsberg,” who also asked for more time to respond. Ginsberg then sent CNN back to the DeMaio campaign, which issued a statement denying the allegations. Frates then caught DeMaio at a news conference to get his response.
Sexual Harassment Allegations Air
Before CNN could air its story, the sexual harassment allegations surfaced at the Oct. 8 DeMaio news conference that was supposed to be about denouncing negative campaigning.
Tony Perry, the San Diego bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, peppered DeMaio with questions about the allegations, including whether DeMaio was interviewed by sex crime detectives. DeMaio confirmed he was.
DeMaio said that after detectives interviewed him, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman called him and said, “Thank you for your full cooperation and we consider this matter closed,” according to a transcript from an NBC San Diego reporter.
Two days later, on Oct. 10, the story was blown wide open on CNN. Bosnich’s descriptions of what he said DeMaio did to him were heard for the first time. Also heard for the first time was DeMaio’s claim that Bosnich was fired for plagiarizing the pension report in May.
Three days after that, San Diego CityBeat posted the full Slater interview.
Bosnich Begins Leaking Emails
The DeMaio campaign’s headaches didn’t end once the sexual harassment story aired. That’s because Bosnich began leaking old campaign emails. The DeMaio campaign responded differently to each new leak, and sometimes differently to the same leak.
• A set of emails from April 19 that Bosnich sent to the Washington Examiner showed DeMaio campaign manager Knepper advising staff on how to spot “trackers” — staffers who show up at the opponent’s events and report back on them. Knepper wrote that “red flags” included people who are young and at a Saturday morning event, and people who are black.
DeMaio responded in an email: “Drop black from the criteria.”
The DeMaio campaign didn’t deny the emails were sent. Knepper later apologized for them in a statement sent to Talking Points Memo.
• The DeMaio campaign responded differently to an email published by San Diego CityBeat. The Jan. 22, 2014, email appears to show DeMaio making fun of a Peters campaign staffer with a photo of an obese woman in a bra eating a chicken nugget.
DeMaio’s campaign didn’t respond to CityBeat. The story was then picked up by several national media outlets. A day later, the campaign responded in a U-T San Diego story. “DeMaio said the email was fabricated by Todd Bosnich,” the story reported, but didn’t explain what “fabricated” meant.
A Twitter conversation spanning multiple days and involving the story’s editor and reporter ensued, with the U-T editor suggesting the email could have been “faked,” or that Bosnich could have sent it from DeMaio’s account.
Two days after the first U-T story, DeMaio’s campaign told the U-T it was filing a complaint “with authorities” alleging someone broke into one of the campaign’s email accounts. The story didn’t report what email account was compromised or whether emails were falsely sent.
• A third email leaked to NBC San Diego appears to show DeMaio taking credit for writing a U-T editorial that strongly criticized Peters. DeMaio’s campaign did not respond in the story. The editorial board and the editor of U-T San Diego said the claim that the DeMaio campaign wrote the editorial was false.
DeMaio’s campaign declined to answer any questions from KPBS about Knepper’s or DeMaio’s emails.
Bosnich also returned to social media at the end of October, tweeting embarrassing claims about the DeMaio campaign. Among them that the campaign edited the Peters and DeMaio Wikipedia pages, and that DeMaio runs the Twitter account @4SanDiegoNews, which among other things makes fun of a Peters campaign staffer for his weight.
The DeMaio campaign declined to answer questions from KPBS about whether DeMaio staffers edit Wikipedia pages and whether DeMaio tweets from the @4SanDiegoNews account.
Bosnich said he still plans to sue DeMaio, but that may not happen until after the Nov. 4 election.