U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty used her personal email address in a confidential severance agreement with former Chief of Staff Tony Baker.
The congresswoman kept Baker on staff for months after she was made aware of allegations against him, which included physical assault and harassment of one of her former employees. When he eventually left his job, he did so with the benefit of a “confidential severance and release agreement” that guaranteed him separation pay, a student loan repayment waiver, and the promise of a signed letter of reference.
The document also revealed one other point: Esty’s office used her personal Gmail address as the official contact for the agreement.
Tim Daly, Esty’s chief of staff, provided a copy of the original signed document without comment to Connecticut Public Radio Tuesday morning. And, seven hours after the station published that document, Esty's office threatened to involve the U.S. Capitol Police unless it was redacted.
“After consulting with our attorney, we strongly believe there is no legitimate public interest in disclosing the Congresswoman’s personal email address,” Daly wrote. “The sole purpose in our view would be to allow people to use it to harass her. If you still refuse to use the redacted version, we will have no other option, than to refer the matter to the Capitol Police.”
The agreement in question was between Baker and “the Office of Representative Elizabeth H. Esty” -- not Esty herself. Notices required under the agreement were to be provided to “the Office” by way of Esty’s personal Gmail account. (According to the Hartford Courant, Esty also used a second non-governmental account in this matter. It reports that she used her Yale email account to contact the victim.)
The unredacted severance agreement provided to Connecticut Public Radio by her office included two personal email addresses -- Baker’s and Esty’s. After the initial publication, Baker, through a representative, asked that his email be redacted. Connecticut Public Radio agreed -- Baker did not consent to the release of the document.
Daly’s first request came at 3:40 p.m. -- nearly six hours after he first sent the original document.
“[M]y sincere apologies,” he wrote. “I provided you the wrong file. The attached should have bene [sic] provided with personal information redacted. Can you update this file on your story / website? Please confirm (for legal reasons).”
The document Daly provided with this email included what appeared to be manually redacted email addresses. Given several opportunities, neither Daly nor the attorney he copied -- Joe Sandler -- cited their legal reasoning for the request to use the new version.
Connecticut Public Radio initially declined the request -- pointing out that Esty used her personal email to conduct official business. Then, just after 4:00 p.m., Daly emailed again, saying that the “document was shared with you in error and I would hope that you would honor this request.”
“The Congresswoman’s personal email is not for official business,” Daly continued, despite the fact that she used her personal email in the severance agreement, which she signed on behalf of her public office. “It was simply a conduit to receive this piece of information in this one instance as a party to this agreement. I strenuously urge you to take down or update this link and include the redacted version only.”
Connecticut Public Radio again declined. Then, at 5:48 p.m., Daly wrote once more -- and, this time, he threatened to involve the police.
Connecticut Public Radio then decided to post the redacted contract, while reserving the right the repost the original.
Meanwhile, Daly failed to respond to a series of questions, including:
• Why did Esty use her personal email in a document to which she wasn't a party?
• Did she use her personal email as a regular practice?
• Was she using her personal email to avoid the public disclosure of the severance agreement?
• If not, why wouldn't she use her official email?
In an interview last week, Esty apologized for her mishandling of the harassment accusations against Baker. She also said she was “very strongly counseled” to enter into the agreement with Baker by the Office of House Employment Counsel. In an interview Friday, Esty said she now regretted that move.
“It struck me then and strikes me still as, that was wrong, and that’s why I broke the ‘do not disclose’ -- the non-disclosure agreement,” Esty told Connecticut Public Radio. “Because I think people need to know what is going on. And people need to understand the process that’s been in place in the House and how much it needs to change.”
On Friday, Esty apologized for her mishandling of the situation; by Monday, she said she would not seek reelection. But, on Tuesday, her office refused to say why she chose to use her private email in the official contract.