Montana Gov. Steve Bullock spoke for the first time publicly Friday night to Lee Newspapers about disgraced longtime former staff member Kevin O'Brien.
During the interview, Bullock admitted that he was "naive" to believe that O'Brien had learned his lesson after being fired from a high-level position with the Democratic Governors Association for sexual harassment. Bullock, the two-term Montana governor, was head of the DGA when the harassment surfaced.
Bullock also admitted that he was wrong by not alerting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about O'Brien's checkered past at the DGA, and said he had not done enough to stop O'Brien.
"By terminating him at the DGA, we took appropriate steps," Bullock said. "I felt sick at the realization I hadn't done enough. Look backward, I was wrong, but that didn't help."
Bullock said that during O'Brien's tenure on his staff as both attorney general and then governor, he was aware of no complaint or concern with O'Brien. He also told The Billings Gazette that O'Brien's employment record was spotless.
On Jan. 30, de Blasio accused Bullock of lying about O'Brien in order to secure the job, and said that he had falsified documents to cover for him. But, Bullock said on Friday that an employment background check by de Blasio's office didn't go directly to him instead, it went to Sheila Hogan, who was then the head of Bullock's Department of Administration.
Bullock also said that as he's researched the matter, he said de Blasio's employment request only pertained to O'Brien's tenure in Montana, which Bullock said was without blemish.
Bullock said he only learned that O'Brien had landed in the mayor's office after O'Brien was hired.
"I was naive," Bullock said. "I probably should have called."
O'Brien left the governors association in December 2015 after a woman employed there accused him of sexually harassing her and an investigation backed her up.
O'Brien started work at City Hall, as deputy chief of staff, on Jan. 24, 2016, and was promoted to acting chief of staff in early 2017. He served in that capacity until the end of that year, following de Blasio's re-election, when he became a senior adviser to the mayor.
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In February 2018, two women accused O'Brien of sexual harassment and he was forced to quit City Hall, although he remained on the payroll until late March. But City Hall at the time made no announcement about O'Brien's departure or the reason for it.
When reached for comment on Monday, O'Brien issued a statement nearly identical to one that he released after the circumstances of his departure from City Hall were recently disclosed, blaming alcohol abuse for making "horrible decisions."
"There's no excuse for what I've done. I'm embarrassed and ashamed," he said. "No one deserves to be treated that way. I've apologized to the people I've hurt and will continue to do so because I am truly sorry."
Bullock told The Gazette that he had also redoubled his efforts to learn if there were problems with O'Brien in Montana.
"What I have read is inconsistent with the behavior I knew," Bullock said. "I asked all my senior staff if they had seen or heard anything inappropriate and they said no they hadn't."
Going forward, Bullock said that leaders need to do more to prevent this behavior.
"We have to make sure that men who sexually harass are not put in a position to do it again," Bullock said.
On Saturday morning, Bullock released a statement which appeared to largely repeat what he said in an interview with The Gazette.
"I should have done more to ensure future employers would learn of his behavior. I also know these realizations come too late for the two women in New York City," Bullock said. "For that, I’m deeply sorry.
"Men who sexually harass and assault others are too often repeat offenders, and those of us who are made aware of credible allegations have a responsibility to make sure those men aren’t in a position to do so again."