The battle for 2020: Possible Democratic presidential candidates
Sen. Kamala Harris’ chief of staff is departing her Senate office to take on a senior adviser role at her political action committee, yet another signal the California Democrat is preparing to launch a 2020 bid for president.
Harris on Tuesday morning announced that Nathan Barankin, a longtime aide and veteran of California politics, would leave his job in the Senate. Rohini Kosoglu, currently Harris’ deputy chief of staff, will replace Barankin
“Rohini has been an invaluable leader on our team as we’ve fought for our shared values and the best of who we are as a country during these first two years,” said Harris, who won her election to succeed Sen. Barbara Boxer in 2016. “I also want to thank Nathan for his service, he is a trusted adviser who has been essential to building a team here in Washington that continues to fight for the interests of Californians.”
Barankin is not leaving Harris’ orbit altogether, however.
According to a Harris aide, he will be joining her political operation, advising her Fearless for the People PAC.
Harris raised more than $2 million for the PAC during the 2018 election, donating more than $400,000 to federal candidates. That made her one of the most generous campaign donors in the Senate, along with two other likely 2020 Democratic candidates, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Harris is considered a top-tier candidate in what is likely to be a crowded Democratic primary field in 2020. She recently told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski that she will make a decision about running for president “over the holiday ... with my family.”
Few political prognosticators doubt she will run.
California’s new, early primary date could give her a boost because of her statewide election experience, local relationships and the number of delegates at play.
Barankin has deep ties to Democrats in Sacramento. He served as a top aide to Bill Lockyer when he was state Senate president pro tempore and then attorney general. Barankin also worked for Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg when Steinberg was senate president.
Barkankin began working for Harris in 2011 when she was attorney general of California, first as her chief of staff and then as the chief deputy attorney general.
He was in that role when a California Department of Justice employee, Danielle Hartley, notified the agency she planned to pursue legal action related to a sexual harassment and discrimination complaint she filed against Harris adviser Larry Wallace.
Wallace has worked for Harris going back to her days as district attorney in San Francisco. He then served as director of the Division of Law Enforcement at the California Justice Department under Harris.
In her lawsuit, filed in December 2016, Hartley accused Wallace of “gender harassment,” including that he frequently forced her to crawl under his desk to change the paper and ink in his printer. She alleged the department of retaliated against her when she complained about his behavior.
The lawsuit settled for $400,000 in May 2017, two months after Harris hired Wallace as a senior adviser in her Sacramento field office. He resigned the position earlier this month, after The Bee inquired about the settlement, which was reached by Harris’ replacement as attorney general, Xavier Becerra.
In his role as Harris’ deputy, Barankin typically would have reviewed the results of internal investigations into discrimination and harassment complaints. He would have determined whether a policy had been violated and what action should have been taken, according to a Department of Justice policy provided to The Bee last week.
The Department of Justice has not said what happened with Hartley’s complaint. She filed it in a manner that might have directed it exclusively to department attorneys as a litigation matter rather than one that would have triggered a broader personnel investigation, according to department policy.
Hartley’s attorney served the Department of Justice with notice of her intent to pursue legal action on Oct. 3, 2016, three months before Harris left office.
Harris has denied that she or her staff had any knowledge of the harassment complaint or lawsuit, telling The Bee this month that she was “frustrated” that she hadn’t been briefed on the complaint against Wallace, which she considered a “breakdown” in the system.
“We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously,” communications director Lily Adams told The Bee when the story first ran.
According to Harris’ office, Barankin’s departure was long planned and unrelated to the revelations about Wallace.