Will a Recanted Sexual Harassment Allegation Save Gil Cisneros?

Gil Cisneros (courtesy of Cisneros for Congress)

Remember all the hoo-ha about 39th Congressional District candidate Gil Cisneros being accused of sexually harassing a fellow Democrat who at the time was seeking a California Assembly seat?

Both Cisneros, who faces Republican Young Kim in the Nov. 6 general election, and Melissa Fazli, who lost her primary bid in the 55th Assembly District, just put out a statement informing she has withdrawn her “misconduct allegation.”

“I appreciate Mirvette Judeh opening a line of communication with myself and Gil Cisneros and arranging a meeting to discuss our previous interactions,” Fazli says in reference to the community leader who arranged the sit down. “I misunderstood the conversations that I had with Gil Cisneros at the Democratic convention and after. I don’t believe that Gil sexually harassed me.”

That’s completely opposite of what Fazli had been saying from February’s California Democratic Party Convention in San Diego through just weeks ago. She alleged that Cisneros, who is married and a multi-millionaire thanks to California lottery winnings, appeared intoxicated during a conversation in an elevator about campaign contributions that ended with him asking, “Should we go back to your room?”

In a follow-up telephone call where Fazli says she again sought a donation, she claimed Cisneros asked, “What are you going to do for me?” that she took as another sexual come on.

On May 3, Fazli sent out a press release detailing her allegations, which was followed a day later by a statement from Cisneros accusing her of being a “surrogate” for Andy Thornburn, another Democrat with deep pockets who was seeking the same congressional seat. Fazli on May 17 shared her story live via Periscope and Facebook Live.

Melissa Fazli’s Periscope moment

After the smoke cleared from the June primary, the Fazli-Cisneros story pretty much died–only to be revived by three campaign commercials from the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) Super PAC. Dedicated to electing Republicans to Congress and closely linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan, the CLF also sent to district voters three mailers with Fazli’s professional real estate photo and name “without her permission,” according to her joint statement with Cisneros. 

The ads prompted the Cisneros campaign to push back hard against Fazli’s story, with a long timeline showing the events could not have played out as the accuser had maintained.

In the new statement, Fazli lashes out against CLF “for airing false, sexualized content during children’s programming.” She claims she contacted the CLF to immediately cease any more use of her name and photo, and that she added extra security at her home and changed her license plates on her car because she feared for her and her family’s safety.

“The Congressional Leadership Fund lied,” Fazli says. “Rather than standing with victims and survivors of harassment and assault, they are weaponizing my story for their own political gain. I denounce their ads. Emotions, anxiety, and stress have multiplied 100-fold for women like myself during this MeToo movement. I believe Mr. Cisneros has a good heart and is truly sorry for the handling of my accusations.”

Fazli followed that up with this tweet:

Twitter

However, the thing about social media is it invites outside commentary, and many of the online reactions have been along the lines of people wondering what has Cisneros now promised to Fazli to get her to drop her story.

The wannabe congressman brings up none of that in his own statement on the matter.

“This past week, seeing the pain of Dr. Ford and so many women and the dismissiveness of both Judge Kavanaugh and Washington Republicans, I felt it was important to reach out to meet with Melissa,” said Cisneros. “I have defended the truth against millions of dollars in false attacks that both lie about the claims made and weaponize her story. I believed it was important to listen to her and to open up a line of communication. We sat down and heard each other, found a clear case of misunderstanding, and are both ready to move forward.”

Judeh is also quoted as saying, “I arranged this meeting because I truly believe that this has been a misunderstanding. I’m outraged that Paul Ryan and Republicans in Congress are twisting this claim and airing sexualized content in front of my children. Their hypocrisy is stunning. For the good of this district, our country, and the MeToo movement, I wanted to put this misunderstanding behind us.”

The outrage seems to have paid dividends. The Cisneros campaign put out a press release Tuesday stating CLF “was forced to pull its false attacks ads against military veteran Gil Cisneros, following a cease and desist letter from the Cisneros campaign.”

Young Kim (Official state Assembly photo)

The campaign also accused Kim of refusing “to denounce the blatantly false ads while they were airing.”

“Young Kim’s silence on the false attacks against Gil Cisneros is indicative of her loyalties to the dark money, shady interest groups that have been bankrolling these lies and blatant falsehoods,” says Nic Jordan, Cisneros’ campaign manager, in the release. “Kim can try to wipe her hands of these attacks, but her refusal to call out her dark money allies speaks to her real character. Ultimately, it’s not surprising that Kim continues to demonstrate a complete lack of political courage considering she gladly and willingly has thrown her support behind President Trump.”

The Kim campaign could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, in these potential blue wave days, when nearly every other Orange County congressional district has a Democrat leading in the polls (albeit barely in many of them), Kim leads Cisneros in polling for the seat left open with the retirement of her former boss, Representative Ed Royce (R-Brea).

See why an MSNBC expert had Korean-American former state Assembly member Kim up by 10 percentage points at the time this YouTube video was posted:

As you can see, one reason cited was Fazli’s original claims.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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