Amy Klobuchar has laid the grounds for a presidential run on an image of “Minnesota nice.”
But behind the doors of her Washington, DC, office, the Minnesota Democrat ran a workplace controlled by fear, anger, and shame, according to interviews with eight former staffers, one that many employees found intolerably cruel. She demeaned and berated her staff almost daily, subjecting them to bouts of explosive rage and regular humiliation within the office, according to interviews and dozens of emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News.
That anger regularly left employees in tears, four former staffers said. She yelled, threw papers, and sometimes even hurled objects; one aide was accidentally hit with a flying binder, according to someone who saw it happen, though the staffer said the senator did not intend to hit anyone with the binder when she threw it.
“I cried. I cried, like, all the time,” said one former staffer.
In the emails seen by BuzzFeed, often sent between 1 and 4 in the morning, Klobuchar regularly berated employees, often in all capital letters, over minor mistakes, misunderstandings, and misplaced commas. Klobuchar, in the emails, which were mostly sent over the past few years, referred to her staff’s work as “the worst in … years,” and “the worst in my life.”
When staffers made mistakes, the emails show, she reamed them out — and sometimes, emails show, threatened to fire them — over threads that included many of their colleagues.
As Klobuchar prepares to potentially announce a presidential campaign Sunday, four of those former staffers said they were sharing emails and anecdotes with BuzzFeed News because they believe that insight into her office reflects on the senator’s ability to run the country. BuzzFeed News spoke with some of the staffers extensively over a period of several months.
“Senator Klobuchar loves her staff — they are the reason she has gotten to where she is today. She has many staff who have been with her for years — including her Chief of Staff and her State Director, who have worked for her for 5 and 7 years respectively, as well as her political advisor Justin Buoen, who has worked for her for 14 years — and many who have gone on to do amazing things, from working in the Obama Administration (over 20 of them) to running for office to even serving as the Agriculture Commissioner for Minnesota,” a campaign spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “She is proud of them and the work they have done for Minnesota.”
Some former staffers have gone on the record to defend Klobuchar. “Amy was one of the best bosses I’ve had,” said Asal Sayas, who was referred to BuzzFeed by Klobuchar’s office and worked as her director of scheduling for three years. “I found her to be incredibly fair and extremely effective.”
The senator “cared deeply for me as her staffer,” said Kali Cruz, who worked for her during her first term in the Senate. “When I was pregnant with my first baby, she threw me a baby shower, opening up her home and cooking a meal for my family and friends. We worked hard, but we always had some fun, too.”
Some former aides, however, say that Klobuchar’s behavior as a leader didn’t just affect her employees but limited their ability to conduct Senate work, creating a chaotic environment where staff were forced to devote as much time to managing their boss’s unpredictable anger as they did to governing.
“She can be just as mad about a crisis with Facebook” as she was about being given the wrong clothing for an event, said a second former staffer, pointing to the senator’s work on issues surrounding Facebook. “It will take you just as much staff time and energy to put out that kind of crisis as you spend on Facebook.”
The employees all asked not to be named, most because of fear of retribution from Klobuchar, who was first elected in 2006. They were hesitant to describe specific incidents on the record, or publish the text of emails, because they feared it would make them identifiable to the senator.
“I’ve always been taught that your true character shows in how you treat those with less power than you, especially behind closed doors,” said a third former staffer. “The way Sen. Klobuchar behaves in private with her staff is very different than when she’s in the public eye, and that kind of cruelty shouldn’t be acceptable for anyone.”
HuffPost reported this week that at least three people had declined to take jobs on the senator’s potential presidential campaign because of her reputation with her staff.
Klobuchar is known as a friendly face in Minnesota and enjoys enormous popularity, even in rural, conservative parts of the state, in large part thanks to the careful attention she pays to the state’s interests. She called her 2015 memoir The Senator Next Door.
In Washington, she is known as one of the most difficult bosses on Capitol Hill. According to data from 2001 to 2016, Klobuchar had the highest staff turnover rate in the Senate, with an annual turnover rate of 36%. Her Washington office currently has 24 employees, according to the website LegiStorm.
Some staffers, including Sayas, said they felt that sexism was at the root of rumors and negative coverage of Klobuchar as a boss.
“Women shouldn’t be expected to nurture their employees or colleagues more than men, and they should be no less entitled to challenge them,” Sayas said. “As a strong woman, it was inspiring to work for another strong woman that was direct, incredibly smart, and a leader.”
Other women who worked for Klobuchar disagreed.
“I knew her reputation going in, and I rationalized it, because I thought that was what was going on — I thought people were saying that because she was a woman,” said the first former staffer. “I regret that now.”
“I don’t think this is one of those situations” where sexism is to blame, said the second former aide. Klobuchar’s gender may have played a role in the way rumors about her spread so rapidly through Capitol Hill, she said. “But honestly, if it were a man doing these things, that story should be written.”
Most staffers who spoke with BuzzFeed News are experienced congressional employees who say they have worked with difficult lawmakers, men and women, in the past. But as a boss, Klobuchar was uniquely unbearable, most former staffers said — in a way that four staffers said was “worse” than any rumors about her behavior they had heard.
Anything could set her temper off, they said, and it was often unpredictable. Among the things that staffers said had prompted outbursts from Klobuchar: minor grammar mistakes, the use of the word “community” in press releases, forgetting to pack the proper coat in her suitcase, failing to charge her iPad, and using staples.
“Two months later, that changes, and she’s really pissed about paper clips,” said the second former staffer.
Klobuchar’s temper also affected her own ability to do her job, said that staffer, making it difficult to prep her for interviews or distracting her in the moments before a hearing.
Klobuchar’s anger and her relentlessness are particularly clear in the emails to staff, which some preserved after they left the Senate to document what they said they believe to be abusive behavior by the senator.
But not every former staffer sees Klobuchar’s intensity as a liability. A fourth former staffer said that he did not believe Klobuchar’s temper — “She makes it clear when she is disappointed,” he said — affected her office’s ability to function successfully. Klobuchar is known in Minnesota for her attention to detail, he pointed out, and her ability to speak to and attend to the needs of many different constituents.
“Her office is a very successful office, and in part the reason she’s reelected with the margin she has, and enjoys the popularity in-state, is a result of her hardworking office and a member who’s very focused on representing her state.”
A fifth former aide said Klobuchar’s toughness had improved her work, and had had an undeniable impact on her state. “Her job wasn’t to be my mentor and cheerleader,” she said. “Her job was to get shit done for Minnesota.”
But four other staffers disagreed, saying their work, and the office’s, suffered as a result of Klobuchar’s behavior, because of a tense, anxious work environment and the high level of staff turnover.
“I’m not an anxious person; I’ve worked for other tough bosses,” said the second former staffer. “But it’s hard to explain the anxiety that permeates the office. It’s an overwhelming sense of panic and not being able to plan. You never knew what was going to come at you. That compounds, and it affects the workplace.”
The first former staffer said they believed it was important for voters to be aware of what went on behind closed doors because they saw echoes of Klobuchar’s behavior in the chaos of the current administration.
“The reason it matters is when I hear the descriptors of our current president and how he lacks responsibility and everyone is to blame, and there’s erratic behavior, name-calling,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but you’re also describing her.”
WASHINGTON – Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office once again punted when offered the chance to recommend a specific prison sentence for former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. But they pulled no punches in a sentencing memo made public Saturday, calling Manafort a “bold” offender likely to commit more crimes after after serving his time.
Manafort is scheduled for sentencing in his criminal case in Washington, DC — one of two prosecutions brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office — on March 13. Although prosecutors didn’t specify what exact sentence they thought Manafort should get, they urged the judge to impose a stiff penalty, arguing he presented a “grave risk” of reoffending once he’s released back into the community.
“His deceit, which is a fundamental component of the crimes of conviction and relevant conduct, extended to tax preparers, bookkeepers, banks, the Treasury Department, the Department of Justice National Security Division, the FBI, the Special Counsel’s Office, the grand jury, his own legal counsel, Members of Congress, and members of the executive branch of the United States government. In sum, upon release from jail, Manafort presents a grave risk of recidivism,” Mueller’s office wrote.
Prosecutors noted that the estimated sentencing guidelines range for Manafort in his DC case is between 210 and 262 months in prison — 17.5 to nearly 22 years — but by law, he can be sentenced at most to 10 years in prison for the two counts he pleaded guilty to in the fall. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years, notwithstanding aggravating factors that boosted the sentencing guidelines range, such as the amount of money involved and the sophistication of the financial crimes scheme.
Manafort is separately facing up to 24 years in prison in his criminal case in federal court in Virginia, according to a sentencing memo that the special counsel’s office filed on Feb. 15. He’ll be sentenced first in Virginia — the hearing before US District Judge T.S. Ellis III is scheduled for March 8.
The judge handling Manafort’s case in Washington, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, could stack her sentence on top of whatever Manafort gets in Virginia, or she could run it concurrently, which means he wouldn’t serve additional time. Prosecutors said in the latest sentencing memo that they would not take a position now on whether Manafort’s sentences should run all at once, or back-to-back.
However, prosecutors wrote in a footnote that the US Sentencing Guidelines instruct courts to craft sentences involving multiple counts to reach the “total punishment” called for under the guidelines. They said that this analysis should apply to Jackson’s decision about whether to run Manafort’s sentence on top of his Virginia sentence — that is, to consider the much higher, 210- to 262-month guidelines range that Manafort faces in his DC case, notwithstanding the 10-year maximum for the two counts he pleaded guilty to.
In September 2018, on the eve of trial, Manafort pleaded guilty in his DC case to two counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States through a variety of financial crimes and other illegal activity, and conspiracy to interfere with potential witnesses in his case.
Prosecutors argued that there were no factors in Manafort’s background that “mitigates his criminality,” echoing a similar argument they made in the sentencing memo they filed in his Virginia case. Manafort displayed “boldness” in failing to report his lobbying work in the United States on behalf of the Ukrainian government, prosecutors wrote, even though he’d been warned before by the Justice Department about complying with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Manafort earned millions of dollars for his work for Ukraine, and pleaded guilty to conspiring not to report that income or its overseas source to the US government; he was convicted by a jury of tax and reporting crimes in his Virginia case as well.
“For over a decade, Manafort repeatedly and brazenly violated the law. His crimes continued up through the time he was first indicted in October 2017 and remarkably went unabated even after indictment,” prosecutors wrote. “The sentence in this case must take into account the gravity of his conduct, and serve both to specifically deter Manafort and generally deter those who would commit a similar series of crimes.”
Manafort’s lawyers had been due to file their own sentencing memo in the DC case on Friday, but they asked for an extension, citing the challenges of visiting Manafort in jail during a snowstorm last week. Manafort has been in custody since June, when Jackson ordered him detained pending trial after prosecutors first raised allegations that he’d tried to interfere with witnesses. His sentencing memo is now due on Feb. 25; his sentencing memo in the Virginia case is due March 1.
Manafort agreed to cooperate with the government as part of his plea deal, but any benefit he might have gotten from working with prosecutors disappeared after Mueller’s office concluded he’d lied not only to them, but also to the FBI and the grand jury.
On Feb. 13, Jackson entered an order finding that prosecutors made the determination in “good faith” that Manafort breached his plea deal, absolving them of any obligations under the agreement. The judge wrote that Mueller’s office “established by a preponderance of the evidence” that Manafort made false statements about his communications with longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a separate, as-yet-nonpublic Justice Department investigation, and a payment related to a debt that Manafort owed a law firm.
Prosecutors wrote in the DC sentencing memo that Manafort’s false statements after he pleaded guilty reflected “a hardened adherence to committing crimes and lack of remorse.”
A new study by BuzzFeed News and Lucid surveyed tech workers on their attitudes toward the media. The results show deep skepticism toward the press, and concerns about the role of identity politics in coverage.
It’s been a bruising few years in the media for the world’s biggest tech companies. One by one, many of the industry’s most prominent firms and their leaders have come in for unprecedented levels of scrutiny from the press: over disinformation during the 2016 election, over hate speech and targeted harassment, over the treatment of workers, over discriminatory advertising practices, over the spread of conspiracy theories, over sexual misconduct, over business ties to the repressive Chinese government, and over perceptions of political bias within the companies themselves.
Sustained critical coverage of Silicon Valley is both a natural consequence of these powerful companies’ dominant and growing role in American life and a correction to what many observers feel was years of insufficiently rigorous reporting on the way their products and practices are reshaping contemporary society.
Tech’s newfound place under the media microscope has led to grousing among tech executives, in public and private, that the press has overcorrected, going too far in its antagonistic coverage toward the industry, blaming it for problems it didn’t create, and ignoring its successes.
To gain a fuller understanding of how Silicon Valley understands its changing relationship with the press, BuzzFeed News conducted the first-ever survey of attitudes of tech workers toward the media. The survey, of 1,000 professionals across a broad range of companies ranging in size from 500 to more than 10,000 employees, reveals an industry with deep skepticism toward the media and significant concerns about the role identity politics plays in press coverage of technology.
Indeed, more than half (51%) of tech industry professionals “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” with the statement that “President Trump has a point when it comes to the media producing fake news.” A separate survey conducted by BuzzFeed News, of 1,000 Americans representing the national population, found that only 42% somewhat or strongly agree with that statement.*
This finding puts in new context Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s much-publicized desire to build a site for tracking journalists’ credibility — a campaign many dismissed as eccentric grandstanding but which appears to arise from a pervasive sentiment in the industry, one that appears to be stronger than in the country at large. Older employees (over 55), employees of larger tech companies, and employees of companies with over $1 billion in revenue were more likely to have a negative opinion of the media than younger employees (18-49), employees of smaller companies, and employees of companies with less than $1 billion in revenue. In addition, women in the tech industry are less likely to hold a positive opinion of the media than their male counterparts.
Tech workers’ mistrust of the press seems to stem from several sources, one of which is the perception of identity-based bias in the media’s coverage of tech companies.
Nearly 4 in 10 of tech workers (38%) and nearly half of men in the industry (45%) surveyed believe “the media has become too feminist.” (A separate survey conducted by BuzzFeed News* found that the national percentage of people who believe the media has become “too feminist” is 39%.) Over the past several years, dozens of stories have focused on the relative dearth of women working in the industry — specifically in technical jobs — and the difficulties faced by the women who work in tech.
Similarly, more than a third (34%) of survey respondents, and more than 4 in 10 male survey respondents (41%), believe the media is unfair to white men. Last year, former Google engineer James Damore sued his old employer, alleging a company-wide effort to increase the number of women and underrepresented racial minorities that discriminated against white male conservatives.
Another source of tech worker skepticism toward the media comes from the perception that when it comes to covering their industry, members of the press often don’t know what they’re talking about. Only 50% of tech industry professionals surveyed think journalists are knowledgeable about the companies they report on, and only 43% believe the media has a strong understanding of technology itself.
(The survey asked respondents to select outlets that they felt covered the industry most fairly; TechCrunch, CNN, and Wired led the way, with 12%, 11%, and 11% of respondents selecting them, respectively. Conversely, respondents selected Fox News, CNN, and Fox Business News as the outlets that are most unfair in their coverage of the tech industry, with 17%, 13%, and 8% selecting them, respectively. BuzzFeed News ranked next, at 5%.)
Much of the recent critical reporting on tech companies has been enabled by corporate leaks. This topic strongly divided survey respondents. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that employees of tech companies “should freely speak with the media”; meanwhile, 49% “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that employees of tech companies “should not share information with the media.” (The statements were presented to respondents as two separate queries, which is why they add up to slightly more than 100%.)
One clue as to when tech workers might believe such leaks are justified came in the form of a question about China. Less than one-third (31%) of tech workers “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that US-based tech companies should operate in China. Dragonfly, Google’s secret initiative to build a censored search engine for the Chinese market, stalled after its revelation by the Intercept led to internal complaints. Meanwhile, 59% of tech workers “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that “tech companies should work with the US government on military projects,” another source of recent controversy in the industry, which also came to a head when reports exposed Google’s Project Maven, a drone AI imaging contract with the Pentagon, which it subsequently did not renew. (Only 38% of American consumers feel the same way.)
In addition to questions about tech workers’ attitudes toward the media, the survey asked subjects’ opinions on the major companies in the industry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the company that has faced the most lacerating criticism from the press over the past two years, Facebook, was also the most negatively judged by tech professionals. While 80% of tech workers believe the industry has had a positive impact on society, only 46% of tech workers believe Facebook has, and 32% believe Facebook has had a negative impact on society — the most of any company listed.
Meanwhile, respondents were asked to select words or phrases that applied to a variety of tech companies. The vast majority of the responses were positive — for example, Google was most commonly described as “Dependable,” “Innovative,” “Leader,” “Stable,” and “Respectable.”
Of the companies listed, only Facebook’s top five descriptors were all negative. They were “Controversial,” “Secretive,” “Exploitative,” “Arrogant,” and “Frustrating.” ●
Graphics by Ben Kothe / BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
The BuzzFeed News & Lucid Tech Industry Perceptions study was conducted between December 27, 2018, and January 10, 2019, and questioned 1,000 US Representative Sample of Tech professionals aged 18–64. Results in this article are based on responses from tech professionals who work more than 30 hours per week and are employed by a tech company with 500-plus employees. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 3%. Click here to view the detailed data tables.
*Consumer Sentiment Tech Poll (via Pollfish, n=1000, US Census representative among those aged 18–64)