WASHINGTON – A potential Republican candidate for the Senate seat from Illinois — where the party's nominee withdrew over sex club allegations — engaged in "lewd and abusive behavior" while she served as a top official in the White House drug policy office, an internal inquiry found last year.
In front of her staff, Andrea Grubb Barthwell (search) made repeated comments about the sexual orientation of a staff member and used a kaleidoscope to make sexually offensive gestures, according to the findings of a March 19, 2003, "hostile workplace memorandum" prepared by drug policy office staff. The Associated Press obtained the memorandum.
In an interview Wednesday with the AP, Barthwell said the memorandum overstates what happened, but she said she was wrong for participating in "inappropriate banter" at a staff birthday party.
"As the senior person there it was my job to stop it before it got started and I didn't. I in fact joined in," she said.
Barthwell said she has not decided whether to pursue the Senate seat, but she said the complaint should not be a factor in her candidacy.
"I think it's something that was in the past, something we dealt with and it was resolved to everyone's satisfaction," she said.
Barthwell, a Chicago-area physician and a political unknown, resigned last week as deputy director for demand reduction in the Office of National Drug Control Policy to explore pursuing the nomination.
Republicans have been scrambling for a candidate since Jack Ryan dropped out of the race last month over allegations in his divorce papers that he took his wife, "Boston Public" actress Jeri Ryan, to sex clubs before they split up.
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who considered running for the seat as a Republican, decided not to enter the race, GOP officials said Wednesday night.
At the drug policy office, Barthwell oversaw national efforts to prevent and treat drug abuse. She won bipartisan praise after being nominated by President Bush in 2001.
The report says her staff had "the highest regard for Dr. Barthwell's credentials and knowledge, but ... almost uniformly stated their fear and discomfort with what they consider to be unusual behavior patterns and displays of temper."
The lewd and abusive behavior finding stemmed from a Dec. 19, 2002, staff gathering. Barthwell made comments about a staff member's sexual orientation after the staff member misspoke in an earlier conversation, the memorandum said.
"Dr. Barthwell made reference to this staff member sitting on men's laps. A kaleidoscope pointed upward was placed on a chair by Dr. Barthwell as the staff member was about to sit down," it said.
"Dr. Barthwell suggested that the staff member would want to cut the cake available for the gathering because the knife was 'long and hard' and he might 'enjoy handling it.' When the cake was cut, Dr. Barthwell referred to the pieces as 'most' or 'beefy' and she said to the staff member, 'I know you like it big and meaty."'
The staff member was not identified.
In the interview, Barthwell said the staff member was engaged in the banter and didn't seem uncomfortable.
"Had he been the least bit uncomfortable at the time, I would have brought it to a stop," she said. "Because he was an active participant, I didn't."
The memorandum, though, said the staff member and at least one other person objected to her comments. It said the staff member felt the comments were "lewd, derogatory and called into question his heterosexuality."
The staff member didn't file the complaint; another colleague did. The matter was then referred to a fact-finder, in accordance with the drug policy office's long-standing procedures for resolving personnel issues such as sexual harassment or discrimination complaints.
A fact-finder interviewed 26 people, including 13 within Barthwell's department, for the memorandum.
Tom Riley, a spokesman for the drug office, said, "The grievance was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties." He declined to discuss specifics, citing privacy concerns.
As a result of the grievance, everyone in the office was required to participate in sexual harassment training, Barthwell said. She said she was also asked to take an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission course "to make sure that I had information available to me to prepare me to be a supervisor in the government workplace."
John Fluharty, a gay Republican serving as an adviser to Barthwell, rejected any suggestion that she is insensitive. "She is a decent, honorable woman who would be an asset in the United States Senate," he said.