N.H. AG: No link between inappropriate comment by Andy Sanborn, cash to intern

  • Sen. Andy Sanborn listens as Sen. Kelly discusses a bill on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Wednesday, June 06, 2018

An investigation by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office found no evidence of wrongdoing by state Sen. Andy Sanborn in a 2013 incident involving an “inappropriate comment” to an intern and an envelope of cash from the Senate chief of staff.

In a letter to Senate President Chuck Morse, Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said a grand jury review concluded that, while Sanborn had made the comment, the cash payment and the subsequent hiring of the intern were not made “in exchange for the intern’s silence.”

“Because there is no credible evidence of a connection between the inappropriate comment made by Senator Sanborn to the intern and the later job and cash provided to the intern, there is no evidence here that any criminal acts were committed,” Ward writes in the letter, dated Tuesday. “As such, this office will take no further action in this matter.”

The office did not name the intern, but referred to him using male pronouns.

Sanborn said he was never interviewed by the attorney general’s office, but he credited investigators for doing a thorough job.

“I am pleased to see that after several attempts by my political enemies to discredit me and others, we now can finally put this issue to rest that no one involved has ever done anything wrong, violated any policy or had any complaint filed,” Sanborn said.

The investigation goes back to a reported incident on Feb. 20, 2013, in which Sanborn made the comment to an intern in the state Senate, according to the letter. The incident was reported and investigated by the Senate legal counsel, which ended “with no formal complaint being filed,” the letter said. The attorney general’s office did not specify the nature of the comment.

Three months after Sanborn’s comment, that intern was hired on a “part-time temporary basis” in the Senate clerk’s office. Just ahead of his employment, then-Senate Chief of Staff Jay Flanders passed the intern an envelope containing about $200 of cash, according to the letter, citing the testimony from Flanders.

But while rumors have swirled that the payment and hiring was made to buy the intern’s silence, the office found a “lack of any connection.” The cash was given as a loan to cover the new hire’s gas and food costs ahead of his testimony, the office said, citing Flanders’s testimony.

“Specifically, no party to the hiring of the intern stated that they received explicit or implicit direction to hire the intern because he had been on the receiving end of an inappropriate comment by Senator Sanborn,” the letter states. “To the contrary, the evidence established that a concerted effort was made to ensure the intern was neither given an advantage in the hiring process nor penalized because of the incident with Senator Sanborn.”

The letter added that “by almost all accounts the intern was talented and qualified for the (part-time) job,” and noted that though he applied for a full-time position in the office later, he was passed over for a more qualified candidate, which the office argued refuted the notion that he was given special treatment.

Other rumors had been voiced that the cash payment was much larger than $200, but Ward said “there is no credible evidence that contradicts this amount.”

The office did note that there were contradictions among some of the witnesses on how the loan was handled; Flanders said it had been paid back after the first paycheck, but others said the intern handed it back the next day. Those witnesses also said the intern expressed discomfort and confusion at the time over why he had been given the money at all, the letter said.

Those contradictions, however, did not affect the overall conclusion that the payment was not related to the inappropriate comment.

The investigation involved audio interviews with 18 different witnesses, as well as the subpoena of Senate records, correspondence, and employment records, according to the office. And it came in response to a request by Morse and his office to investigate the matter, the letter stated.

Political leaders in the Senate wasted no time Tuesday in seizing on details in the report. Democratic Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn of Whitefield argued the report still raised questions about Sanborn’s behavior.

“It is disturbing that a cash payment was made by the Senate Republicans to an intern on the receiving end of sexual harassment, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal violation,” Woodburn said. “It is even more troubling that it took more than five years to look into this.”

At present, there is no public evidence the comment involved sexual harassment.

But Senate President Morse, who requested the investigation, said the results Tuesday represented a validation of the process. Morse was elected to the top post in late 2013; his predecessor, Peter Bragdon, held the reins during the events being investigated.

As soon as Morse’s office became aware of the concerns around the payment, he passed the information to the attorney general and cooperated with the investigation, Morse said in a statement.

“We are reassured by the AG’s findings and we are confident that the process in place is effective in creating a safe environment where anyone voicing a concern will be taken seriously and treated with respect,” he said. “It has been and will continue to be a priority to ensure that the State House is free of harassment and discrimination and that all legislators, staff, lobbyists and the public are able to focus on important issues facing our State.”

Sanborn has previously acknowledged the incident, saying in December that he had used “crass language in response to an absurd statement made by someone in my office” in early 2013.

He said the matter was brought to the attention of the Senate president, it was investigated, and he was exonerated of any wrongdoing.

“No one in the room was offended by the joke,” Sanborn said. “No complaint was filed. Case closed. If that’s news, so be it.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)