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Column: Grassley’s probe slams Garcetti. Partly deserved, but partly a partisan hit?

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Things haven’t been looking so good lately for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The campaign to succeed him is fueled by blistering critiques of the city’s failures in addressing its massive homelessness crisis.

His prospects for higher elective office aren’t particularly bright.

And his nomination to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to India, long delayed, just took another blow in a damning report by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

Grassley, who has been conducting an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against one of Garcetti’s closest former advisors, Rick Jacobs, has just dropped a hammer on the mayor, who has claimed no knowledge of said harassment.

“Mayor Garcetti likely knew or should have known that Rick Jacobs was sexually harassing multiple individuals and making racist comments towards others,” Grassley concluded in his report, which was made public Tuesday.

According to the Iowa senator, multiple city employees “have said that they witnessed, or were aware that Mr. Jacobs would sexually harass or make racist comments towards others. Several also reported that the mayor knew about this behavior and did nothing to stop it.”

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was ‘likely’ aware of alleged sexual misconduct by aide Rick Jacobs, according to an investigation by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

In his conclusion, one of Grassley’s more damaging points is that there was “testimony from two separate witnesses about two separate occasions where the mayor expressed surprise that the city had not been sued because of Mr. Jacobs’ behavior.”

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We’d already heard much of this and more, going back to when a police officer on Garcetti’s security detail sued the city, claiming that Jacobs sexually harassed him and the mayor knew about it. Jacobs, by the way, has denied any sexual harassment. But city staffers have said in depositions or interviews with The Times that harassment by Jacobs was widely discussed by employees.

None of this looks good for Jacobs or the mayor. As for Garcetti, if he knew what was happening and kept mum, it’s unforgivable that he’d turn his back on victims of abuse to protect a friend who happened to be a big fundraiser and donor. But not knowing anything is troubling as well.

And yet, having said all that, the Grassley report has the appearance of a partisan hatchet job on a nomination by a Democratic president.

For starters, Garcetti’s nomination was approved in January by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the mayor had said he never witnessed the alleged misconduct by Jacobs. And a report by the city attorney’s office concluded that Jacobs did not sexually harass the police officer and that Garcetti did nothing wrong.

Sure, such a conclusion might have something to do with the city wanting to protect itself from a big settlement.

But the Grassley investigation was neither a criminal nor a civil proceeding, and he had no subpoena power. As the report says, 11 employees working with or close to Garcetti declined to speak to Grassley’s team. Neither Garcetti nor Jacobs was interviewed.

And the conclusions are somewhat speculative, as this line suggests: “It is difficult to imagine that [Garcetti] would not have known or heard others commenting about Mr. Jacobs’ behavior.”

What can be imagined and what can be proved are different things, so I wonder whether Grassley’s motive was to get at the truth or to poke a stick in Biden’s eye and besmirch a Democratic mayor.

It was only several weeks ago that Grassley and every other Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against Biden’s nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court after his esteemed colleagues accused the nominee of being soft on child pornographers.

Nominees for ambassadorships have often been rubber-stamped by both parties over the years, regardless of qualifications and often as payoffs to political donors. I don’t have a problem with lawmakers elevating the process, but would Grassley have pursued such a zealous probe of a foreign post nominee put up by a Republican president?

I don’t recall this level of outrage or prosecutorial zeal from Grassley over President Trump’s alleged liaisons and hush-money coverups involving a Playboy model and a porn actress.

What I do recall is that Grassley initially called out Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was based on the wacko claim that the presidential election was stolen. But then Grassley fell into line and proudly accepted Trump’s endorsement for his reelection.

So Trump’s a good guy, but Grassley has now conducted a weeks-long investigation and compiled a 23-page condemnation of the mayor of Los Angeles regarding the behavior of a former aide?

Garcetti deserves to be held up for inspection, though the Grassley probe brings more heat than light.

Meanwhile, the White House has called Grassley’s hit a hatchet job, but we’ll have to wait and see if Biden really goes to bat to save this nomination.

And we’ll see what comes next in the evolving, partially self-inflicted Eric Garcetti tragedy, in which a once-ambitious climber struggles to keep from going over the cliff.

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