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Date: 2024-05-24 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00019625

Workplace Predation

The Secret History of Kimberly Guilfoyle’s Departure from Fox


Peter Burgess
News Desk The Secret History of Kimberly Guilfoyle’s Departure from Fox

Kimberly Guilfoyle speaks on a large TV. A former assistant at Fox accused Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is now one of the Trump campaign’s top fund-raising officials, of sexual harassment—and of attempting to buy her silence.Photograph by Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

As President Donald Trump heads into the 2020 elections, he faces a daunting gender gap: according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, he trails Joe Biden by thirty percentage points among female voters. As part of his campaign, Trump has been doing all he can to showcase female stars in the Republican Party, from nominating Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court to naming Kimberly Guilfoyle, the former Fox News host and legal analyst, his campaign’s finance chair. Guilfoyle, however, may not be an ideal emissary. In November, 2018, a young woman who had been one of Guilfoyle’s assistants at Fox News sent company executives a confidential, forty-two-page draft complaint that accused Guilfoyle of repeated sexual harassment, and demanded monetary relief. The document, which resulted in a multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement, raises serious questions about Guilfoyle’s fitness as a character witness for Trump, let alone as a top campaign official.

In the 2020 campaign, Trump has spotlighted no woman more brightly than Guilfoyle. She was given an opening-night speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. And this fall Guilfoyle, who is Donald Trump, Jr.,’s girlfriend, has been crisscrossing the country as a Trump surrogate, on what is billed as the “Four More Tour.” At a recent “Women for Trump” rally in Pennsylvania, Guilfoyle claimed that the President was creating “eighteen hundred new female-owned businesses in the United States a day,” and praised Trump for promoting school choice, which, she said, was supported by “single mothers like myself.”

Guilfoyle has maintained that her decision to move from television news to a political campaign was entirely voluntary. In fact, Fox News forced her out in July, 2018—several years before her contract’s expiration date. At the time, she was a co-host of the political chat show “The Five.” Media reports suggested that she had been accused of workplace impropriety, including displaying lewd pictures of male genitalia to colleagues, but few additional details of misbehavior emerged. Guilfoyle publicly denied any wrongdoing, and last year a lawyer representing her told The New Yorker that “any suggestion” she had “engaged in misconduct at Fox is patently false.” But, as I reported at the time, shortly after Guilfoyle left her job, Fox secretly paid an undisclosed sum to the assistant, who no longer works at the company. Recently, two well-informed sources told me that Fox, in order to avoid going to trial, had agreed to pay the woman upward of four million dollars.

Until now, the specific accusations against Guilfoyle have remained largely hidden. The draft complaint, which was never filed in court, is covered by a nondisclosure agreement. The former assistant has not been publicly identified, and, out of respect for the rights of alleged victims of sexual harassment, The New Yorker is honoring her confidentiality. Reached for comment, she said, “I wish you well. But I have nothing to say.”

The woman was hired in 2015, just out of college, to work as an assistant for Guilfoyle and another former Fox host, Eric Bolling. According to a dozen well-informed sources familiar with her complaints, the assistant alleged that Guilfoyle, her direct supervisor, subjected her frequently to degrading, abusive, and sexually inappropriate behavior; among other things, she said that she was frequently required to work at Guilfoyle’s New York apartment while the Fox host displayed herself naked, and was shown photographs of the genitalia of men with whom Guilfoyle had had sexual relations. The draft complaint also alleged that Guilfoyle spoke incessantly and luridly about her sex life, and on one occasion demanded a massage of her bare thighs; other times, she said, Guilfoyle told her to submit to a Fox employee’s demands for sexual favors, encouraged her to sleep with wealthy and powerful men, asked her to critique her naked body, demanded that she share a room with her on business trips, required her to sleep over at her apartment, and exposed herself to her, making her feel deeply uncomfortable.

As serious as the draft complaint’s sexual-harassment allegations were, equally disturbing was what the assistant described as a coverup attempt by Guilfoyle, whose conduct was about to come under investigation by a team of outside lawyers. In July, 2016, the network had hired the New York-based law firm Paul, Weiss to investigate sexual misconduct at the company, which, under the leadership of Roger Ailes, had a long history of flagrant harassment and gender discrimination. According to those familiar with the assistant’s draft complaint, during a phone call on August 6, 2017, she alleged that Guilfoyle tried to buy her silence, offering to arrange a payment to her if she agreed to lie to the Paul, Weiss lawyers about her experiences. The alleged offering of hush money brings to mind Trump’s payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels, in order to cover up his sexual impropriety.

By 2017, the Paul, Weiss lawyers had begun investigating accusations of workplace sexual misconduct involving Eric Bolling, with whom Guilfoyle shared the assistant. Guilfoyle and Bolling were close, and it was all but inevitable that if the assistant accused Bolling of sexual harassment—as in fact she did—Guilfoyle’s conduct would come under scrutiny next. (Bolling, whose employment Fox ended in September, 2017, declined to comment; he has denied any wrongdoing, and is now a host at Sinclair Broadcast Group.) According to the assistant, as the investigation into Bolling gained momentum, Guilfoyle told her that she needed to know what the assistant would say if she were asked about sexual harassment, and warned her that she could cause great damage if she said the wrong thing. Guilfoyle, she said, told her that, in exchange for demonstrating what Guilfoyle called loyalty, she would work out a payment to take care of her—possibly, she said, with funds from Bolling. The assistant alleged that Guilfoyle mentioned sums as large as a million dollars, and also other inducements, including a private-plane ride to Rome, a percentage of Guilfoyle’s future speaking fees, and an on-air reporting opportunity. People close to Guilfoyle called the assistant’s allegation untrue, and said they were shocked that she would fabricate such a false claim. But a well-informed source independently confirmed to me that Guilfoyle had discussed the topic of raising hush money.

When the assistant declined the offer of money, Guilfoyle warned—in a manner that the assistant regarded as threatening—that, if she spoke candidly to the lawyers, some aspects of the assistant’s private life that Guilfoyle knew about might be exposed. In fact, as I reported on this story, associates of Guilfoyle’s contacted me, offering personal details about the assistant, evidently in hopes of damaging her credibility and leading me not to publish this report.

Guilfoyle declined to be interviewed for this story but issued a statement: “In my 30-year career working for the SF District Attorney’s Office, the LA District Attorney’s Office, in media and in politics, I have never engaged in any workplace misconduct of any kind. During my career, I have served as a mentor to countless women, with many of whom I remain exceptionally close to this day.” John Singer, her lawyer, said that he would not comment.

According to the former assistant’s account, she declined what she regarded as Guilfoyle’s attempts to buy her off, and refused to conceal evidence or lie. Instead, she told the legal team at Paul, Weiss that both Guilfoyle and Bolling had sexually harassed her. Multiple people in whom the assistant confided at the time say she expressed concern that Guilfoyle might retaliate against her; Guilfoyle had boasted of her high-level connections inside Fox’s legal office, and of her ability to ruin enemies’ reputations. The assistant’s concerns had mounted to the point that she sought legal help. Meanwhile, her allegations sparked months of investigation into Guilfoyle’s behavior by Fox’s human-resources department, and eventually resulted in Guilfoyle’s negotiated departure from the company.

Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, declined to comment on the appropriateness of Guilfoyle overseeing the Trump campaign’s finances, given the allegations about hush money and harassment levied against her by her former assistant. Murtaugh referred inquiries to Guilfoyle’s lawyer.

The news that Guilfoyle did not leave Fox on good terms was first broken by HuffPost, in 2018. Yashar Ali reported that Fox had quietly forced Guilfoyle out after a months-long probe by its human-resources department had revealed disturbing allegations by co-workers, including by her assistant, who had been given a paid leave as the company investigated. Ali wrote that Guilfoyle had denied any misconduct and had fought to stay at the network. Her allies had even mounted an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt to save her job by appealing to Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, then the news network’s parent company. But Murdoch, who had looked past decades of sexual harassment at Fox News, had been persuaded by his sons, Lachlan and James—then both senior executives in the company—that such misconduct could no longer be tolerated. Paul, Weiss was called in to clean house. A source familiar with the situation told me that the assistant’s confidential statements were foundational to Fox’s decision to part ways with Guilfoyle.

Michele Hirshman, the partner at Paul, Weiss who oversaw the investigation at Fox, didn’t respond to my requests for comment. The Washington attorney Gerson Zweifach, who served as 21st Century Fox’s general counsel and legal adviser on the sexual-harassment probe, also declined to comment, saying, “I can’t be of assistance here, for all the reasons you might expect.” A spokesperson at Fox declined to comment on Guilfoyle’s departure from the company. When asked about reports suggesting that Guilfoyle had received full payment for the remaining time on the contract, the spokesperson said that they were “not accurate.”

Kimberly Guilfoyle speaks in front of a Women For Trump sign. In the 2020 campaign, Trump has spotlighted no woman more brightly than Guilfoyle, who has been crisscrossing the country as his surrogate, on what is billed as the “Four More Tour.”Photograph by Matt Rourke / AP / Shutterstock

Several associates of Guilfoyle’s insist that the allegations against her lack credibility. Alexandra Preate, a public-relations executive who is a longtime friend of Guilfoyle’s, told me, “These manifestly false accusations are an affront to the honorable life that Kimberly, a single mom and trailblazing woman, has led.” Greta Van Susteren, a former colleague of Guilfoyle’s at Fox, said of her, “I’ve known her for twenty-some years, and I’ve never heard of a single complaint against her. This is completely inconsistent with what I’ve seen.” Sergio Gor, the chief of staff for the Trump Victory finance committee, who has known her for more than a decade, said, “She always puts others ahead of herself and is unfailingly generous and ethical.” Another defender of Guilfoyle’s, who declined to go on the record, noted that the assistant had sent numerous gushing notes to Guilfoyle thanking her for her mentorship, and referred to Guilfoyle as almost like family. The assistant had also tweeted praise of her bosses.

The New Yorker, however, was able to independently confirm several of the assistant’s accusations. The allegation that she was required to work at Guilfoyle’s apartment while Guilfoyle was barely clothed or naked was substantiated by several of the assistant’s confidants, including an eyewitness, who recalls being surprised by the sight. “It was provocative in a way that made you want to get away from this person,” the eyewitness told me.

One current and one former Fox employee confirmed the assistant’s allegation that Guilfoyle had often shared lewd images, noting that she had shown photographs of male genitalia to them, too—some of romantic partners, others of fans. Another former employee described Guilfoyle showing pornographic videos in the office. Guilfoyle’s graphic sexual talk so upset hair-and-makeup artists at Fox that they lodged an internal complaint, triggering an investigation by the company.

A former Fox colleague who had been friendly with Guilfoyle said, “It was worse than gross—it put other women at Fox in such a terrible position.” She explained that, as someone at a junior level, she felt afraid to criticize Guilfoyle, who was a powerful star with high-ranking friends at the network. At the same time, the former colleague didn’t want to be complicit in behavior that she regarded as crude, unprofessional, and legally troubling. “It created an environment that was detrimental to young women,” the former colleague said.

The current Fox employee, who has socialized with Guilfoyle, defended Guilfoyle’s right to take whatever pictures she wanted, and to share them outside of work with her friends, but argued, “You can’t expose an assistant to that.” A confidant of the former assistant—who also knows Guilfoyle well—agreed, saying of her, “They really put her through a wringer. It was a justifiable complaint. She’s a very nice kid. She’s not a nefarious person. It was a hostile workplace.” Another former Fox colleague who observed the dynamic between Guilfoyle and the assistant said, “It was an insane, abusive relationship,” adding, “Rather than being a mentor, she was an afflictor.” And yet another close observer who still works at Fox told me that the assistant was “one of the nicest, hard-working people—she was young and full of ambition, but by the time she left she was just broken.”

When the #MeToo movement erupted, Fox News turned to Guilfoyle as an on-air expert on legal issues, including sexual harassment. Before joining Fox News, in 2006, Guilfoyle had been a prosecutor in San Francisco, where she had been married to Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who was the city’s mayor and is now California’s governor. In on-air discussions of workplace harassment, Guilfoyle portrayed herself as an advocate for women’s rights, speaking forcefully about the cases of the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and moderating a roundtable about the television host Charlie Rose. (In that discussion, Guilfoyle’s Fox colleague Greg Gutfeld said, “The whole thing with Charlie Rose is so strange that he would, like, force co-workers or young people to view him naked—like, he would walk around his apartment naked.” Rose apologized for his “inappropriate behavior,” though he denied some of the allegations made against him.) In 2017, after the Times and The New Yorker broke the Weinstein story, Guilfoyle declared that “the victims” were “the most important aspect,” and referred to her experience of working as a lawyer with victims of “sex-abuse crimes.” She expressed sympathy for victims who were afraid to come forward because “they don’t feel that they have economic power” and they want “to get a chance” in their chosen industry.

Yet the assistant has alleged, both in her draft complaint and to confidants, that Guilfoyle contributed to, and even defended, the sexually hostile work environment at Fox News. The assistant recounted that Guilfoyle had been dismissive about her complaints about being sexually harassed, had discouraged her from speaking to Fox’s human-resources department, and had pointed to her own career, claiming that she had had sexual encounters with powerful figures at Fox herself. One of the former Fox News colleagues who had socialized with Guilfoyle told me that her sexually inappropriate behavior was akin to that of many powerful male Fox employees before 2016, when the network was rocked by a lawsuit brought against Ailes by Gretchen Carlson, a former on-air host. Carlson’s suit exposed a deep-seated sexually predatory culture at the network. Nearly two dozen women at Fox eventually alleged that they had been sexually harassed or intimidated. The scandal triggered Ailes’s downfall, and also that of the star host Bill O’Reilly. “Kim was kind of like one of the guys, the way they used to operate,” the former colleague told me. Another former co-worker of Guilfoyle’s recalled, “It was always about sex and guys with her. She didn’t hide it—she’d almost flaunt it. She probably wasn’t aware of others’ feelings. It was a different time.”

Before Guilfoyle became an outspoken defender of Trump, she was an outspoken defender of Ailes. When Carlson sued him, Guilfoyle attempted to debunk her credibility. In an interview with Adweek, Guilfoyle claimed that she had spoken with more than thirty women at Fox, and said, “Nobody that I’ve spoken to said that this was their experience.” Two months before Fox settled with Carlson, for twenty million dollars, Guilfoyle gave an interview to Breitbart in which she vouched for Ailes’s “character, integrity, and credibility,” saying, “I’ve known the man very well the last 15 years. He’s someone who I admire greatly.” She called Ailes “a champion of women” who has “always been 100 percent professional.”

Guilfoyle reportedly led a public-relations campaign, coördinated with Ailes, in which she implied to women at Fox that their careers would suffer if they didn’t back him. According to a complaint filed by the former Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky, with whom the network settled yet another sexual-harassment claim against Ailes, Guilfoyle “sought to recruit Fox News employees and contributors to retaliate against Carlson by publicly disparaging her.” This “retaliatory onslaught,” Roginsky’s complaint said, was characterized as “supporting ‘Team Roger.’ ”

According to Brian Stelter’s “Hoax,” Guilfoyle told female colleagues that they had better support Ailes, warning, “I’m taking notes.” Stelter suggests that Guilfoyle was motivated by the belief that Ailes, who seemed all-powerful, would reward her by making her the host of her own show. One of the former Fox colleagues who spoke with me said that Guilfoyle tried to intimidate other women at the network: “It was ‘Pick your team now—and if you don’t back Roger you will be out of here fast. There will be retribution.’ ”

Once Ailes was gone, Guilfoyle’s position at Fox grew less secure. Even her allies agree that Ailes’s public disgrace left her in a bad spot. But Guilfoyle’s defenders claim that she left the network entirely of her own volition. At the time, a widely circulated story line suggested that she had left the network in order to avoid conflicts of interest posed by her deepening romance with Donald Trump, Jr. In fact, soon after Guilfoyle left Fox, in July, 2018, she joined Trump’s reëlection campaign, as vice-chair of America First Action, a pro-Trump super pac.

Last December, reportedly at the President’s request, Guilfoyle was asked to become the head of fund-raising for Trump Victory, his main campaign organization. She began touring the country as a Trump surrogate, appearing, as she did last month in Pennsylvania, in a bright-pink dress that matched a banner bearing the slogan “Women for Trump.” She also began hosting pro-Trump “news” updates on a channel available only to users of the Trump campaign’s social-media app.

Since taking the fund-raising position, Guilfoyle has attracted some criticism. In March, an opulent fifty-first-birthday party was held for Guilfoyle at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, and, according to the Times, the festivities were paid for, in part, by campaign donors. The use of private jets by Guilfoyle and her staff has also drawn negative press. But Guilfoyle, who has a son from her second marriage, to the furniture heir and designer Eric Villency, has flaunted her image as an insider in the Trump world, often posting photos on social media of herself and the President’s son in glamorous settings, including the White House. According to the Washington Post, the couple last year bought a $4.4-million beach house together in the Hamptons.

Despite Guilfoyle’s record at Fox, she was given one of the Republican National Convention’s most prominent speaking spots—just before 10 p.m. on the first night. As an exercise in attention-getting, her speech didn’t disappoint. Describing herself as the daughter of immigrants—though her mother was born in Puerto Rico, whose residents have long been U.S. citizens—Guilfoyle warned that Democrats “want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear.” She concluded by shouting, “Ladies and gentlemen, leaders and fighters for liberty and the American Dream: the best is yet to come!” Her delivery was so jarringly loud that Chuck Ross, a reporter at the conservative Daily Caller, tweeted, “I heard Guilfoyle’s speech and my TV’s not even on.” But Guilfoyle evidently pleased the audience that mattered most: Trump reportedly told her that it was one of the “greatest” speeches he’d ever seen, because it was delivered with “so much energy.”

Guilfoyle’s relationship with Donald Trump, Jr., who has himself been touted as a future candidate for high office, puts her in as close proximity with the Trump family as almost any outsider. Her name has already been floated for a major post after the election: according to a report by Tom LoBianco, in Business Insider, Guilfoyle is under consideration to replace Ronna Romney McDaniel as the chair of the Republican National Committee.

Ordinarily, allegations like those that have trailed Guilfoyle would likely prove disqualifying for someone seeking a prominent role in the political arena, particularly in a party trying to close a gender gap. But high-profile female Trump supporters like Guilfoyle provide valuable cover for the President. As Susan Faludi, the feminist author of “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women,” points out, “From Amy Coney Barrett to Betsy DeVos to Kimberly Guilfoyle, every woman Trump picks is an emblem of everything women are up against.”
Read More About the 2020 Election Why Joe Biden must win. The fall and rise of Kamala Harris. When a sitting President threatens to delay a sacrosanct American ritual like an election, you should listen. To understand the path Donald Trump has taken to the 2020 election, look at what he has provided the executive class. What happens if Trump fights the election results? The refusal by Mitch McConnell to rein in Trump is looking riskier than ever. Sign up for our election newsletter for insight and analysis from our reporters and columnists. Jane Mayer, The New Yorker’s chief Washington correspondent, is the author of “Dark Money.” More: Fox News Donald Trump #MeToo Sexual Harassment
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