The public affairs firm founded by White House Senior Adviser Anita Dunn represented a victim of sexual harassment at the same time as Dunn, herself, represented an accused party in the same case, according to a new report by National Public Radio (NPR).
Dunn’s firm, SKDK, a public affairs and political communications firm in Illinois, partnered with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund between 2018 and 2019 to represent a woman who had accused then-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan of retaliating against her for claims of sexual harassment. At the same time, Dunn was retained by Madigan to respond to the allegations, according to a report by NPR.
“They never told me that they were also working for Michael Madigan and had they disclosed that with me, I would have never applied for legal funding or PR support with them,” said the woman, Alaina Hampton, to NPR.
Dunn was mentioned as the “lead” person on Madigan’s client file, according to court documents.
“To learn that [Dunn] was helping advise my former employer on my retaliation case due to sexual harassment is just a clear conflict of interest, and I think anyone can see that for what it is,” said Hampton, NPR reported. “It’s really a violation of trust and it feels like a betrayal.”
The conduct was initially defended by Dunn’s firm before the defense was retracted and an apology was issued.
“[W]e have a stringent internal conflict process. The work for the former Speaker cleared that conflict process and was designed to help him fix his workplace rather than paper over his very real problems,” wrote Michael Czin, the managing director at SKDK, in an email to NPR. The next day, Czin retracted his statement and expressed regret for the firm’s actions.
“In retrospect, we realize that the decision to work with then-Speaker Madigan’s campaign on these matters was an error in light of the support Ms. Hampton was receiving from another firm through a separate initiative we were proud to support,” he wrote, NPR reported.
The allegations of sexual assault were not made against Madigan, personally, though he was accused of defending subordinates who were, in turn, accused of such harassment. The conflict of interest was discovered as part of a federal corruption investigation into Madigan, with two top aides discussing Dunn’s work on the issue captured on an FBI wiretap.
“We were surprised to learn from press coverage that Speaker Madigan retained SKDK,” wrote a spokesperson for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, who called the situation “deeply disappointing,” NPR reported.
Dunn serves as one of Biden’s top aides and frequently travels with him on official visits. She has attracted scrutiny, previously, for her unpaid work for disgraced film producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein, according to BuzzFeed News.
The White House and SKDK did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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