Rep. Rick Nolan responded Thursday to a bombshell report detailing how a longtime legislative staffer continued to be employed by Nolan's 2016 re-election campaign despite having been removed from the congressman's federal office following multiple credible allegations of workplace sexual harassment. "In hindsight," said Nolan, DFL-Minn., in a statement, "the (person) should not have been retained by the campaign committee."
Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District Joe Radinovich also tried to distance himself from the report Thursday. Radinovich was Nolan's 2016 campaign manager and hired the staffer at the center of the lengthy report on the political website MinnPost. The report alleges that after being removed from Nolan's legislative office following the emergence of multiple allegations of harassment, staffer Jim Swiderski later slid from Washington, D.C., and into a paid role writing copy for the Nolan re-election campaign.
"The women involved, they would all confirm that when I found out I took immediate action and fired his a**," Radinovich told the News Tribune on Thursday.
Radinovich is among five Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidates vying in the Aug. 14 primary to represent the party on the November midterm ballot for Nolan's open House seat. Nolan announced his retirement from Congress in February. He later joined the Lori Swanson gubernatorial ticket as its lieutenant governor. Swanson-Nolan are paired in a five-team primary to represent the DFL in the November election.
The multiple victims in the MinnPost report appear as protected, anonymous sources. According to the report, Swiderski was a longtime member of Nolan's inner circle - a person who'd also worked for Nolan during his first go-round in Congress from 1975-81. Swiderski is alleged to have preyed upon young female staffers with sexually inappropriate touching, discomforting messages and more. When he was ultimately removed from the legislative office, the allegations were left in the backdrop and the report says he was feted with a going-away party.
Swiderski appears to have been recommended for the campaign copywriting job by some of the same officers who removed him from the legislative position. Radinovich said he took recommendations to hire Swiderski "from senior federal leadership," but added he couldn't remember from whom.
"I didn't know anything about Swiderski's history in terms of why he was released or why he left the federal office," Radinovich said. "For all I knew it was, like, he just kind of was past his prime and they wanted someone newer and more modern in there."
After his accusers learned Swiderski was working for the Nolan campaign following his 2015 removal, they were distressed and angry, the MinnPost report said. A fellow campaign officer who was made privy to the women's complaints informed Radinovich of the brewing controversy. Radinovich said he learned of Swiderski's history in April 2016 and fired him April 22.
"There was not a going-away party with me," Radinovich said. "I fired him face-to-face in Elk River and it was within a week or two of me finding out about this."
The MinnPost report said Radinovich informed the Nolan campaign of Swiderski's removal in an email, and told them to expect to see Swiderski volunteering or "involved in the campaign in other ways."
Radinovich explained he was simply being conciliatory, but that behind the scenes he made sure Swiderski wasn't around. The report notes that after he was fired from the campaign, Swiderski was little seen or heard from again.
"I fired him and he was gone," Radinovich said. "And then I chewed some a** to (Nolan's federal office) about just how that situation would have come about."
Nolan's four-paragraph statement seemed to parse the report, and attempted to establish Swiderski as being retained as a independent contractor on his campaign, working from home.
"I was aware that the former employee was retained as a vendor ... by the campaign committee," Nolan said in his statement. He went on: "I fully support the actions taken by my chief of staff and campaign leadership. Sexual harassment is not condoned in my congressional office or by my campaign committee."
Former Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson, a longtime Nolan congressional aide based in the representative's Duluth office, was also named in the MinnPost report and characterized as someone who tolerated Swiderski's behavior until it reached a critical mass. Anderson is now the campaign manager for the Swanson-Nolan ticket, and could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Radinovich's DFL primary opponents seemed to be keeping mum about the report on Thursday, but the Republican Party was not. Pete Stauber's campaign spokesperson, Caroline Tarwid, tweeted that Radinovich "took no action in protecting the employees" on the Nolan campaign, and National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Maddie Anderson said Radinovich "enthusiastically agreed to let someone fired for sexual harassment join his team."
Radinovich denied those characterizations.
"I say talk to the employees," he said. "When I found out about it I took immediate action. I fired him."
Radinovich did not provide names of employees at the center of the accusations, but said Nolan's former campaign finance director, Michelle Thimios, could corroborate his actions. Thimios currently works for a congressional campaign in Kansas, and could not be reached by the News Tribune for comment Thursday.