Hispanic Democrats keeping Cárdenas as head of political group despite sexual misconduct allegations
Posted May 11, 2018 11:39 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has no plans to ask Rep. Tony Cárdenas to vacate the chairmanship of its political campaign committee as the California Democrat faces allegations of sexually assaulting a then-16-year-old girl in 2007 -- a decision angering some House Democrats who say the party appears to be turning a blind eye to the controversy.
Cárdenas remains active as the head of Bold PAC, a group that donates to Democratic candidates. And on Wednesday, Cárdenas attended a Washington fundraiser that Hispanic caucus members were encouraged by their colleagues to attend as a way to show support for him amid the allegations, sources say. He's furiously denied the allegations, telling his colleagues he's been the victim of a political vendetta.
Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the chair of the caucus, relayed concerns to Cárdenas, according to a source familiar with the conversation, but she did not ask him to step down from running the political action committee.
Asked to comment on her conversation, Lujan Grisham said in a statement provided by her spokesman that Cárdenas "appropriately asked us to withhold judgment until there is a full investigation of the facts."
"Congressman Cárdenas said he will fully cooperate with an ethics investigation," she continued. "I agree there should be a prompt investigation by the House Ethics Committee."
The comments echo the positions taken by top House Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, but it's far from clear whether the House Ethics Committee will even have jurisdiction to investigate allegations from more than a decade ago.
Some Democrats are frustrated with their party's leadership for the lack of action, which comes at a moment when the party has sought to take the moral high ground over sexual misconduct towards women.
"Tony sees staying in leadership as a way to show that his colleagues support him. It's selfish," a Congressional Hispanic Caucus member told CNN. "Instead, it's hurting our Bold PAC candidates, scaring donors and raising questions about our credibility."
CNN reached out to Cárdenas' office for comment on this story and has not yet received a response.
The Hispanic caucus also met Thursday, but sources say the topic of Cárdenas did not come up, though one source noted the caucus does not discuss campaign-related matters in meetings on Capitol Hill.
Lujan Grisham's comment comes as other Democratic leaders have also taken a wait-and-see approach towards Cárdenas. In addition to his role as chair of Bold PAC, the congressman has a separate leadership position under Pelosi created after the 2016 elections, as well as a lower-level position on the whip team under Hoyer of Maryland.
While Pelosi called last week for an Ethics Committee investigation into the matter, she declined to answer a question as she left a news conference to head to House votes Thursday on whether Cárdenas' should resign any leadership roles.
Pelosi does not have the authority to remove Cárdenas from his leadership role since he was elected to the position by the whole caucus, a senior Democratic aide noted to CNN earlier this week. Cárdenas would either have to voluntarily step down or be voted out by his colleagues.
On Tuesday, Hoyer gave no indication he thinks Cárdenas should resign from his whip role. Hoyer told reporters he considers the allegations to be "very serious" and warrant investigation. He said Cárdenas has approached him to say he's not guilty and is prepared to cooperate fully with any probe.
Asked if Cárdenas should step down from his whip position, Hoyer argued Cárdenas is on a team with multiple people and that his position is "not a leadership role." According to whip hierarchy, there are several members who rank above Cárdenas.
Earlier this month, Cárdenas identified himself through a lawyer as the subject of a complaint filed in late April by Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom. The civil suit, which due to a California law did not name the accuser or the alleged assailant, alleges that in 2007, an "elected politician" sexually battered and assaulted a 16-year-old girl. Cárdenas vehemently denied the accusation through a statement from his attorney Patricia Glaser, who called the claim "absolutely false and are utterly inconsistent with who he is --- in the workplace, in the community, and at home."