Top Dem Senate candidate in TN covered up harassment allegations against top officials
Former governor Phil Bredesen, who announced his campaign for Senate on Thursday, is being accused of systematically covering up evidence of harassment by top officials in his administration.
At issue is why Tennessee investigators shredded documents that gave details of sexual harassment and assault against two key aides early in Bredesen's administration.
The details of the 2005 harassment claims against Mack Cooper, Bredesen's senior adviser for legislation and policy, were never revealed.
Bredesen denied that shredding documents was part of a "cover up." Instead he argued it was part of an effort to protect the identities of victims. He admitted, however, that there was no way to prove his point.
"There's nothing to be covered up here," Bredesen told the AP in reference to the Cooper case. "I don't have any way of proving that to you."
Equally damning for Bredesen's office was the case of Quenton White, appointed commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Corrections by Bredesen shortly after he was elected governor in 2002.
White resigned from the post in July 2005, just two months after Cooper's suspension, due to "mounting questions about a sexual harassment allegation against him, his handling of a sexual harassment case against his executive assistant, and circumstances surrounding his relationship with a former subordinate," the Tennessean reported.
White, reporters discovered, had been accused of sexual harassment a year before his resignation. Bredesen confirmed the 2004 sexual assault allegation but said investigators found "no corroboration" of the claim.
Bredesen again had to explain to reporters, however, that he could not give any proof for his statement because the top investigator shredded her notes and had no written report on what was found.
The incidents sparked investigations into whether shredding of documents relating to sexual assault was common throughout state government or whether it was unique to political appointees.
"The governor's office has become involved in a select number of workplace harassment complaints against top state officials and has put them under a veil of secrecy that does not apply to ordinary state workers, a Tennessean review of case files shows," the paper wrote in July 2005 after finding that shredding of documents was common for investigations into officials at the level of Cooper and White.
The AP, which conducted its own thorough review of workplace harassment in Bredesen's office, came to a similar conclusion.
Bredesen is considered the Democratic frontrunner, with GOP rep. Marsha Blackburn heading a strong field of Republicans. Bredesen's name recognition and personal popularity may give him crossover appeal in the deeply red state.
But these allegations have the potential to derail his candidacy – or, at the very least, taint his legacy, which he has been trying to sell to voters. In a highly charged nationwide political atmosphere that is hypersensitive to how sexual harassment claims are being handled by the powers that be, Bredesen's attempt to cover up the details of harassment claims against his aides will be a major line of attack by Republicans against him.