New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham defended her decision to settle with a former campaign staffer who accused her of sexual harassment in 2018, speaking to reporters about it for the first time Friday.
Grisham's campaign has paid at least $62,500 to James Hallinan, a 2018 campaign spokesman, who claimed she once dropped water in his lap and then grabbed his crotch in a pre-election meeting.
The governor has denied the allegations.
"I was focused on the pandemic, and I'll stand by that decision [to settle] every minute of every day," she told reporters in her first in-person comments about the settlement. She also denied there had been any additional settlements or nondisclosure agreements.
Payments to Hallinan’s attorney were made in five monthly installments to a law firm representing him.
Grisham campaign spokesman Jared Leopold previously stated the settlement was part of "an agreement settling numerous dubious and disputed potential claims made by Mr. Hallinan arising from his employment in 2018 with the campaign organization" and that she continues to "strenuously deny that there is any merit or truth to Mr. Hallinan's claims," according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
When asked if Hallinan’s claims had ever been independently investigated, Grisham said she had "not seen anywhere in the country where there’s an independent investigation over an employment claim."
In New York, multiple sexual harassment claims against Gov. Andrew Cuomo by former employees are being investigated by the state’s attorney general.
The alleged incident involving Grisham is said to have taken place at the home of New Mexico state Rep. Deborah Armstrong, who said she never witnessed any harassment.
State campaign finance regulators say that the settlement payments from a political campaign account are permissible because they involve an employment dispute related to Hallinan’s time with the governor's election campaign.
Grisham is a former state representative who was elected as governor in 2018.
She announced her bid to seek reelection last week and was met by a rowdy crowd of protesters who disapproved of her handling of the pandemic. She dismissed them as "QAnon lizard people."
Soon after, she canceled another rally over security concerns, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.