The political rise of Senator Kamala Harris: From California attorney to Congress
For more than a decade, Larry Wallace was one of Kamala Harris’ closest professional confidantes.
During her tenure as the district attorney of San Francisco, Wallace was Harris’ personal driver. When she was elected California attorney general, she appointed him to lead the law enforcement division of the Department of Justice, where he oversaw her security detail. And Wallace followed Harris last year to the U.S. Senate, serving as a senior adviser in her Sacramento field office.
That ended abruptly Wednesday, when Wallace resigned after The Sacramento Bee inquired about a $400,000 harassment and retaliation settlement resulting from his time at the Department of Justice.
Wallace’s former executive assistant, who alleged that Wallace harassed and discriminated against her because of her gender, sued the department shortly before Harris was sworn into the U.S. Senate for retaliating against her after she complained.
Harris has said she knew nothing about the lawsuit or the settlement until The Bee contacted her, an assertion that has been met with widespread skepticism.
In a brief interview Friday, Harris called the situation “deeply unsettling and sad” and said she takes “full responsibility for what happened in my office.”
Harris asserted that neither she nor any staff she had spoken to had any previous knowledge of the claim involving Wallace, even though, as attorney general, she was “constantly” in meetings about personnel issues in the Department of Justice.
“I’m frustrated that I wasn’t briefed,” she said. “That’s what makes me upset about this. There’s no question I should have been informed about this. There’s no question. And there were ample opportunities when I could have been informed.”
Harris said there was “obviously some breakdown” with the system at the Department of Justice and that the department should review its procedures for handling complaints. She said she is in the process of making changes to her own office policy for staff complaints, so that issues of harassment are brought directly to her. Her office is also revising its hiring practices.
Asked why Wallace did not inform her of the complaint as she was considering him for a job with her Senate office, Harris said, “I honestly can’t speculate.”
Wallace was among the select few people who comprised Harris’ inner circle, according to several former employees who worked under her in the attorney general’s office or at the Department of Justice. They declined to be named for fear of retribution.
The former employees said Harris and Wallace were incredibly close. Within six months of becoming attorney general, Harris appointed Wallace director of the Division of Law Enforcement, which encompasses the department’s special agents. In his capacity managing her security team, they frequently spent time together as he accompanied her to public events throughout the state or handled investigations of threatening mail sent to her home.
Wallace, a former Berkeley police detective and special agent for the Department of Justice in San Francisco, also served as Harris’ liaison with law enforcement, two former employees said. He helped build relationships and marshal support for Harris from major police groups, who had largely backed her opponent during her first, narrow victory in 2010.
Danielle Hartley became Wallace’s assistant in 2011 and, according to her lawsuit, she began to experience harassment and other demeaning behavior. She said Wallace frequently asked her to crawl under his desk to change the paper and ink in his printer, and when she asked to move the printer so that she would not have to bend over in dresses or skirts, he refused. After she complained to a supervisor, Hartley said, she was subjected to extensive retaliation from the department.
Hartley filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a precursor to a lawsuit, on Sept. 23, 2016, alleging Wallace sexually harassed her. Wallace and his division were named as co-respondents, according to the complaint.
Three months later, on Dec. 30, 2016, Hartley sued the Department of Justice for gender discrimination and retaliation. The lawsuit did not name Harris or Wallace as defendants. It was served on the department on Jan. 6, 2017 — three days after Harris was sworn in as senator.
By the time the case was settled less than five months later, on May 16, 2017, by Harris’ successor, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Wallace was working for the new senator.
As a senior adviser on Harris’ Senate staff, Wallace was responsible for outreach and support for California law enforcement and was a point of contact for state and local government officials, according to Harris’ office. He also coordinated with law enforcement and first responders in emergency situations, such as wildfires and mass shootings.
He earned a salary of approximately $90,000, according to federal disclosures. That’s on par with what Harris paid her press secretary, speech writer, and other mid-level aides, but only about half of what she paid her chief of staff, state director and other senior staff in the comparable time period.
Records show that Wallace traveled five times on official Senate business between March 2017, when he was hired, and the end of that year. Four of the trips were to cities in California and one trip was to Washington, D.C. which Harris’ office said was for a meeting between the senator and the California Police Chiefs Association.
The Department of Justice declined to comment about whether it informed Harris or her staff about the Hartley lawsuit or the settlement, and whether it has a policy for informing outside employers if the department settles a case involving allegations against one of their employees.
In an email, an unidentified spokesperson wrote, “this case was handled in keeping with standard procedure.”
In response to questions about how complaints and settlements are handled, the department provided an internal memo from 2015. The incidents Hartley described occurred before 2014.
It instructs supervisors to “promptly” report complaints of discrimination, harassment or retaliation to “a supervisor up the chain of command and/or the” Equal Employment Rights and Resolution Office.
The 2015 memo instructs supervisors to “take immediate and appropriate” action to resolve misconduct. It indicates people can choose to have their complaints resolved without a formal investigation.
Hartley’s suit said she told her supervisor, Shannon Patterson, about the alleged harassment by Wallace, but the Department of Justice has not said if an investigation was conducted.