Former staffers of Vice President Kamala Harris have described a toxic environment in her offices dating back more than a decade, just days after her employees claimed they are ‘treated like sh**t’.
Reports of an ‘abusive’ workplace atmosphere in the Vice President’s office, published by Politico, have resonated with staffers who worked for Harris while she held senior positions such as US senator.
‘So many people recognized themselves in it, or recognized treatment they had seen or treatment they had heard about and dismissed,’ one former staffer told Business Insider.
They added that they had sent a link to the report to their therapist with a message that read: ‘Rarely in life are we publicly vindicated.’
Some of the former staffers recalled the now Vice President as ‘unpredictable and at times demeaning’, according to the report based on interviews with 12 ex-employees who worked for Harris while she was San Francisco’s district attorney between 2004 and 2011, California’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017 and most recently US senator.
Barbara O’Connor, a communications professor at California State University in Sacramento told Insider that at least 20 interns who had worked in Harris’ attorney general and Senate officers had come to her crying because they ‘felt they weren’t valued’ there.
Former staffers of Vice President Kamala Harris have described a toxic environment in her offices dating back more than a decade, just days after her employees claimed they are ‘treated like sh**t
O’Connor said she transferred around five interns out of the offices at the time.
A former aide to Harris claimed that when she was attorney general in California there was ‘a sense of paranoia in that office, that you never knew when she was going to snap at you’. Another said the workplace was ‘toxic’ and ‘reactionary’.
Several ex-staffers also claim Harris would call their office and hang up on them ‘all the time’ if they did not give her the information quick enough.
Barbara O’Connor claimed at least 20 interns working at Harris’ offices had come to her crying
One said Harris got frustrated on the phone after she couldn’t find a staffer she was looking for. ‘I don’t understand what’s taking so long,’ Harris allegedly snapped before hanging up, the former staffer said. ‘And I’m just sitting there just shell-shocked.’
Another said: ‘If she called in to talk, and then changed her mind, she would just hang up the phone on you.’
Others said Harris would want to be briefed on issues usually three days in advance – but would sometimes move up meetings without telling her staff and criticize them if they hadn’t prepared.
‘She would move that time slot up so you would be within the 72-hour window without the materials,’ said one former staffer. Harris would pull out the unfinished briefing notes and say: ‘You and I both know that these need to be in three days before we do this briefing.’
The source claimed Harris would then either want to be briefed meaning aides would brief ‘somebody who’s angry or thinks you’ve failed,’ or refuse to have the meeting with ‘a lot of verbal abuse about why she wasn’t prepared’.
During her presidential campaign, Harris would have several events a day and a former staff member said they would sometimes have to edit briefing documents for ‘trivial reasons’.
The source said: ‘Oftentimes the way she digests information is by editing or demanding edits to briefing documents. I think it’s how she internalizes facts, but also it’s frustrating if you’re having to redo something for relatively trivial reasons.’
Some of the former staffers recalled the now Vice President as ‘unpredictable and at times demeaning’. Pictured: Harris with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington on July 15
Tina Flournoy (pictred), Kamala Harris’ Chief of Staff, was accused of creating a ‘blame culture’ in an environment where ‘ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out’
They added that the campaign staff had to travel with a battery-powered printer to reprint note cards and briefing documents in various locations.
But top White House officials have defended Harris amid the allegations, accusing critics of a ‘whispering campaign’ designed to bring her down.
While the sources cited in the Politico report claimed Chief of Staff Tina Flournoy had created a ‘blame culture’ where ‘ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals’, the former employees who spoke with Business Insider allege Harris was the problem for them.
‘[L]ol that everyone is pointing to her [Flournoy] when it’s obvi KDH,’ an ex-aide texted another former colleague in response to the Politico report while referring to Harris by her initials.
But not all of Harris’ former staffers were critical of her, with one describing how working at her office was the best job she’s had.
‘I learned so much and I also saw the person and not just the politician,’ she said. ‘I love her, I really do.’
Tensions started to boil over after Harris finally decided to visit the border last month, blindsiding staffers
Sources claimed that President Biden’s office was concerned about the treatment of staff
Jeff Tsai, a former aide to Harris while she was California’s attorney general, said ‘all of the paces she put us through were the same paces she put herself through’.
Another former staffer in the same office said everyone ‘loved Harris’, but they were ‘so stressed that they were making themselves sick. Is that toxic? I don’t know’.
Tensions within Harris’ Vice President office reportedly boiled over in late June when Harris finally decided to visit the border with Mexico.
The outlet cited 22 officials, former officials, aides and associates of President Biden and Harris who described low morale, a tense atmosphere, porous lines of communication and diminished trust. Much of the blame was directed at Flournoy.
‘People are thrown under the bus from the very top, there are short fuses and it’s an abusive environment,’ said one source.
‘It’s not a healthy environment and people often feel mistreated. It’s not a place where people feel supported but a place where people feel treated like s**t.’
But top White House officials mobilized to defend Harris, accusing anonymous critics of a ‘whispering campaign’ designed to bring her down.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Axios: ‘The president’s trust and confidence in her is obvious when you see them in the Oval Office together.’
He said her talents and determination had already made a big difference to some of the toughest challenges facing the administration.
Top White House officials mobilized to defend Harris (pictured right with Merkel on July 15), accusing anonymous critics of a ‘whispering campaign’ designed to bring her down
‘She’s delivering for the American people on immigration, small business, voting rights, and economic growth, he added.
‘The results speak for themselves: a decline of border arrivals from the Northern Triangle, improved vaccine equity, and increased economic opportunities for women.’
When asked about the reports during her daily briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she tried not to ‘speak to or engage on anonymous reports.’
‘The vice president is an incredibly important partner to the president of the United States,’ she added.
‘She has a challenging job, a hard job and she has a great supportive team of people around her.’
Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to Biden, dismissed the anonymous criticism, saying: ‘It’s a whisper campaign designed to sabotage her.’
He said she remained in high demand for public events.
‘At some point it just becomes, one person says something long enough and it becomes an urban legend,’ he said.
‘It doesn’t have to be credible. It doesn’t have to be real. Someone says something and it can just snowball.’
Cedric Richmond, a senior adviser to Biden, dismissed the anonymous criticism as a ‘whispering campaign.’ He said: ‘It doesn’t have to be credible. It doesn’t have to be real. Someone says something and it can just snowball’
Even so, the allegations will be treated with alarm inside an administration that knows Biden will be 81 at the time of the next election and has done much to promote Harris as the last person in the room when decisions are taken, setting her up for a possible primary run.
The sources claimed that President Biden’s office was concerned about the treatment of staff.
Biden, on the day he was inaugurated, warned presidential appointees while swearing them in that he would fire them ‘on the spot’ if he were to hear that they have shown ‘disrespect’ others.
‘I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect or talk down to someone, I promise you, I will fire you on the spot — on the spot. No ifs ands or buts,’ Biden said at the time.
Flournoy has allegedly created an environment where ‘ideas are ignored or met with harsh dismissals and decisions are dragged out,’ the outlet reported. She allegedly ‘refuses to take responsibility’ and blames staffers for negative results.
Some of the sources told Politico that Harris also is responsible for how her office is run, claiming that the toxic environment ‘all starts at the top.’
Harris aides are reportedly already looking to leave the administration while some already have – like staffers Karly Satkowiak and Gabrielle DeFranceschi, who oversaw the vice president’s travel.
Satkowiak and DeFranceschi left under what had been described as ‘long-planned departures’ but sources contested that characterization to Politico.
DeFranceschi, who previously worked in the Obama administration, reportedly left over a ‘difference in opinion on how things should run.’
‘If you have an opinion about how things should run and it’s not listened to, that can be frustrating,’ the source told Politico.
Harris’ chief spokesperson Symone Sanders, pushed back against the claims and called those who made them ‘cowards,’ according to Politico.
‘People are cowards to do this this way,’ Sanders said.
She added: ‘We are not making rainbows and bunnies all day. What I hear is that people have hard jobs and I’m like ‘welcome to the club.’
‘We have created a culture where people, if there is anything anyone would like to raise, there are avenues for them to do so. Whoever has something they would like to raise, they should raise it directly.’
Sanders also said that Harris ‘is focused on the work’ and ‘not the chatter at the water cooler.’
The chief spokesperson also defended Flournoy and said she has an ‘open door policy’ and that ‘black women like me would not have the opportunity to work in politics without Tina.’
Bill Clinton defended Kamala Harris’ embattled chief of staff after the vice president’s office was rocked by a report in which staffers claimed they are ‘treated like sh**’ and that Tina Flournoy has created ‘blame culture’
‘Tina Flournoy ran my office for more than eight years, making it more efficient, effective, and transparent. She made it easier, not harder, for me to advance my philanthropic work and my post-presidential activities, and keep in touch with my friends,’ he said in a statement to CNBC.
‘She has a unique ability to focus on the big picture and adapt to changing conditions. And she does it all with a great sense of humor and an unwavering belief that we all have an ability and an obligation to make a difference.’
Jennifer Palmieri, who worked in the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said sometimes chiefs of staff just weren’t popular.
‘Sounds like what’s happening here is that Tina Flournoy is doing her job. Chiefs of staff gotta run interference. Doesn’t always make you popular. But it’s part of the job. Protect the boss’ time,’ she wrote on Twitter.
Others who spoke to Politico to defend Harris and Flournoy said that black women were held to standards that others in politics are not – and that a ‘demanding office environment’ would be seen as a virtue for other leaders.
‘Look, [Tina’s] strong, she’s intelligent, she’s driven, and she expects strong, intelligent, driven people around her,’ said Leah Daughtry.
‘But some people may find strong, driven, smart people intimidating, but I think that’s more projection than reality because that’s just not Tina’s intent or style. And nothing in her experience would lead you to think that she’s an intimidating person.’
Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the president, also defended Flournoy.
Dunn said keeping the border trip news private to a small group of people was made because Harris’ office didn’t want it to leak or ‘turn it into a spectacle,’ Politico reported.
‘It was closely held and there may be people whose feelings were a little hurt on her staff that they weren’t brought into the discussion,’ Dunn said.
‘But any suggestion that it was mishandled or kept a secret from people who needed to know about the arrangements or needed to know about it is absolutely not true.’
When Politico asked Dunn about complaints in the office, Dunn said complaints were ‘not anywhere near what you are describing.’
Flournoy previously worked in the White House under President Bill Clinton and then worked on his reelection campaign, as well as then-Vice President Al Gore’s campaign for president in 2000.
She was working as Clinton’s post-presidential chief of staff before she was tapped to work for Harris.
One source told Politico: ‘People who Clinton knew for decades all of a sudden couldn’t get through to him because Tina choked off contact.’
‘Because Clinton didn’t use email, she was able to keep many [friends of Bill] out,’ the source said.
The source added: ‘You can’t just flat out ignore people and not get back to them.’
A friend of Harris’ recently tried to reach Flournoy on behalf of a top Democratic donor but was also ignored, the outlet reported.
Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a roundtable discussion with faith and community leaders and local service providers, during a visit to the Paso del Norte Port of Entry on June 25
When they were ignored, the donor then contact Harris’ office directly and did not hear back for weeks. They were later told Harris was too busy to meet with them.
The friend told Politico: ‘This is someone who has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars—millions, even—for your boss and you’re just blowing them off?’
‘Next time Kamala wants [them] for something, it’s like, ‘Hey, I couldn’t even get a call-back from your chief of staff!’,’ the friend said.
Some Harris allies explained to Politico that the vice president has ‘gone out of her way not to engage in politicking’ to prove her loyalty to Biden as it remains unclear if he will run for reelection in 2024.
Other allies explained Harris’ apparent strategy of not raising her own profile as ‘foolish’ for someone who has ‘been in public life for 30 years.’
‘You don’t just all of a sudden go radio silent,’ said one former aide.
That former aide indicated that Harris is likely aware of the purported problems in her office.
‘She is the most perceptive person on the planet. She might not have first-hand knowledge, but it’s hard to imagine she doesn’t have a sense of what’s going on,’ the person said.
The sources who spoke to Politico blamed some of the low morale in Harris’ office on the issues she has been tasked with tackling for the Biden administration which made her an early target for conservatives – such as slowing the flow of migrants.
Instead of flying to the border, Harris had flown to the countries where the migrants had come from or traveled through on their way to the United States.
Harris finally visited the border weeks later as her aides insisted she did not make the trek because of criticism she faced. But others claimed she inadvertently seemed to affirm conservative criticism against her with the seemingly impromptu trip.