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Gov.’s Office denies campaign staffer’s claims

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office on Thursday denied allegations from a former campaign spokesman that the first-term Democratic governor had sexually mistreated him last year in front of other campaign staffers and supporters.

James Hallinan

The ex-spokesman, James Hallinan, told the Journal he plans to report the incident to law enforcement when he returns from traveling out of the country. He also said he was pressured not to report the incident and not to quit Lujan Grisham’s campaign after it allegedly occurred.

“It’s literally eaten at me every single day” since the incident took place, Hallinan said in a telephone interview Thursday. “You don’t get to be in power and treat people the way she does.”

However, a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman called the sexual assault allegations “categorically false” and said all the other staffers present during the meeting referenced by Hallinan say the alleged wrongdoing did not happen.

“No such incidents ever occurred, and Hallinan’s statements are bizarre and slanderous,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said. “The governor has never and would never conduct herself in the manner described. It is a disgracefully false accusation.”

Hallinan was hired as Lujan Grisham’s campaign spokesman in the summer of 2018 after she easily won a three-way Democratic primary race.

He said the incident occurred not long after he had been hired during a senior staff meeting at the home of Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, who is Lujan Grisham’s former business partner and ex-campaign treasurer. Armstrong did not respond to questions Thursday.

According to Hallinan, Lujan Grisham took issue with several campaign-related suggestions, then poured a bottle of water on his crotch. She then grabbed his crotch through his clothes, Hallinan alleged.

He also claimed Lujan Grisham, a self-professed practical joker, laughed while engaging in the behavior.

Hallinan said that he felt belittled by the incident and that her campaign manager, Dominic Gabello, talked him out of reporting it immediately.

In contrast, the Governor’s Office said in its statement that Hallinan’s tenure as the communications director for Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial campaign was marked by frequent incidents of “inappropriate and unprofessional” behavior.

“His behavior ensured that he was never considered for a position in the governor’s administration,” Sackett said. “Hallinan has played no role whatsoever in the governor’s administration, and his preposterous accusations are patently absurd.”

Hallinan said he alerted the Governor’s Office two days before he went public with his allegations via an early Christmas morning tweet that said: “A governor … is not above the law for her sexual and physical abuse of employees including (me!!!) I’ll talk more when I return to the country.”

Since the initial tweet, he has continued to refer to the allegations while responding to other posters.

Hallinan, who started his own public relations company after last year’s gubernatorial campaign, asserted the decision to publicly accuse Lujan Grisham of wrongdoing was not driven by financial motivations, telling the Journal, “It’s not about money.”

He also suggested in one tweet that he had left the country before making the allegation due to concern about the potential fallout.

In addition to the governor’s campaign, Hallinan has worked for several current and former New Mexico elected officials, including Attorney General Hector Balderas. He currently represents the New Mexico Bowl, Jackson Wink MMA Academy and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, among other clients.

Lujan Grisham, who served three terms representing the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District before being elected New Mexico’s second female governor, called as a member of Congress for increased training and an improved reporting process for sexual harassment.

She said in a 2017 interview that she has been the target of sexual harassment herself, including one instance when she was still in middle school, but never publicly discussed the incidents.

Meanwhile, several current and former New Mexico lawmakers – all of them men – have faced sexual harassment allegations in recent years, prompting top-ranking legislators to adopt a revised anti-harassment policy in 2018.

The allegations leveled against Lujan Grisham by Hallinan come just weeks before the start of a 30-day legislative session, her second session as governor.

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