Bernie Sanders says he was unaware of harassment claims in 2016 campaign, will ‘do better’

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an interview Wednesday that he had no knowledge of multiple allegations that members of his 2016 presidential campaign harassed or discriminated against female campaign workers. The claims have been circulating in recent weeks as the lawmaker mulls a second bid for the White House.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Sanders said that his campaign for the Democratic nomination, which he lost to rival Hillary Clinton, exploded in size over several months as his team hired more than 1,200 employees. Sanders suggested that disorganization may have led to instances of inappropriate behavior within his campaign.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we did everything right in terms of human resources, in terms of addressing the needs that I’m hearing from now, that women felt disrespected, that there was sexual harassment which was not dealt with as effectively as possible,” said Sanders, who is actively cultivating support for a 2020 bid.

His comments come on the heels of several reports from more than two dozen women working on the 2016 campaign.  A story published Wednesday in The New York Times included several detailed accounts of employees reporting harassment or issues with large pay gaps between male and female staffers, only to have campaign leaders discount them.

A letter to Sanders from campaign alumni last month asked him to set new goals for future campaigns. The former workers also requested a meeting with the senator and his advisers to address their issues with his 2016 bid. 

“We — the people who worked on Bernie 2016 — know that much of the success of our campaign was due to the intense commitment, passion and sacrifice of women, people of color and LGBT staffers,” read the letter, first obtained by Politico. “In recent weeks there has been an ongoing conversation on social media, in texts, and in person, about the untenable and dangerous dynamic that developed during our campaign.”

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Bernie Sanders and wife, Jane
Former Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders hugs his wife Jane after making a motion to suspend the rules and nominate Hillary Clinton as the Demcoratic presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders gets a kiss from his wife Jane as he addresses supporters following the closing of the polls in the California presidential primary in Santa Monica, California, U.S., June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane wave to the audience during a rally in Vallejo, California, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
PORTSMOUTH, NH - With Jane Sanders, Democratic Presumptive Nominee for President former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends a rally with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at Portsmouth High School Gymnasium in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Jane O'Meara Sanders walks on the floor during the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. / AFP / Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders kisses his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, at a rally in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States October 14, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (C) hugs his wife Jane Sanders (L) while actress Susan Sarandon surveys the overflow room at a campaign rally in Fairfield, Iowa January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' wife Jane (R) waves to the crowd as Sanders acknowledges her and his step daughters Carina (L) and Heather (C) as Sanders addresses his final campaign rally before the Iowa Caucus at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa January 31, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Jane Sanders, wife of Vermont Senator and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, listens during an interview following a campaign event in Fort Madison, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Jan. 29, 2016. In advance of Monday's Iowa caucuses, the first electoral contest of the presidential primaries, Jane Sanders has ventured out often on her own, sometimes with multiple events the same day. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, walks with his wife Jane Sanders ahead of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015. With Vice President Joe Biden officially out of the presidential race, the nation's first nominating contest between front-runner Hillary Clinton and Sanders is gaining steam, according to a new Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
FLORENCE, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 12: With his wife Jane O'Meara, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) prepares to speak at a Florence Town Hall Meeting in an arena in Florence, South Carolina on Saturday September 12, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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The Times notes that sources said their claims reached the desks of several leading campaign officials, but it’s unclear if Sanders knew of them at the time.

On Wednesday, Sanders said his campaign for the 2018 midterms featured a new “gold standard” that other lawmakers should be working toward.

“What I will tell you is that when I ran for re-election in 2018 in Vermont we put forward the strongest set of principles in terms of mandatory training, in terms of women, if they felt harassed, having an independent firm that they could go to, and I think that’s kind of the gold standard for what we should be doing,” he said.

Sanders also issued an apology to those who voiced criticism of his 2016 presidential campaign, saying he apologized “to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately.”

“And of course,” he said, “if I run, we will do better next time.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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