The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump called this White House defender ‘wonderful.’ He was fired from his previous job for alleged sexual harassment.

Paris Dennard, a conservative commentator recently lauded on Twitter by President Trump, speaks on the red carpet of the State of Black America town hall at the Howard Theatre in 2017 in Washington.
Paris Dennard, a conservative commentator recently lauded on Twitter by President Trump, speaks on the red carpet of the State of Black America town hall at the Howard Theatre in 2017 in Washington. (Cheriss May/Sipa/AP)

A conservative commentator who was lauded by President Trump this week as “wonderful” and who has argued that past sexual indiscretions should have no bearing on Trump’s presidency was fired from Arizona State University four years ago for making sexually explicit comments and gestures toward women, according to documents and a university official.

An internal investigation by the university concluded that Paris Dennard, a surrogate during the campaign and now a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, told a recent college graduate who worked for him that he wanted to have sex with her. He “pretended to unzip his pants in her presence, tried to get her to sit on his lap, and made masturbatory gestures,” according to a university report obtained by The Washington Post.

According to the 2014 report, Dennard did not dispute those claims but said he committed the acts jokingly. The investigation began after the woman and a second female employee told superiors Dennard’s actions went too far and had made them uncomfortable.

Dennard, a CNN political commentator, opinion contributor to the Hill, and regular guest on NPR’s “Here & Now,” was working at the time as events director for ASU’s McCain Institute for International Leadership.

Dennard’s firing from ASU has not been previously reported. An ASU official on Tuesday confirmed the authenticity of the report, which includes a summary of an interview that investigators conducted with Dennard.

Shortly after The Post published this article Wednesday night, a CNN spokeswoman said the network was suspending Dennard while it reviews the allegations.

In an email exchange with The Post, Dennard declined to answer specific questions about the investigation or his departure from the McCain Institute. He said he had not seen the full report and “was led to believe” it was “sealed and proprietary.”

Paris Dennard, a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, has been active in national Republican Party politics since 2000. (Video: C-SPAN)

“I cannot comment on items I have never seen regarding allegations I still believe to be false,” Dennard wrote. “This is sadly another politically motivated attempt to besmirch my character, and shame me into silence for my support of President Trump and the GOP.”

The Post provided Dennard with excerpts of the report summarizing the university’s allegations and findings. The report contains extensive responses from Dennard. It does not name the women involved.

On Monday, Dennard drew praise from Trump for a heated exchange on CNN with Philip Mudd, a former counterterrorism official with the CIA and the FBI. Mudd grew visibly angry during the exchange when Dennard accused officials such as him and former CIA director John Brennan of profiting from their security clearances after leaving government.

“Just watched former Intelligence Official Phillip Mudd become totally unglued and weird while debating wonderful @PARISDENNARD over Brennan’s Security Clearance. Dennard destroyed him but Mudd is in no mental condition to have such a Clearance,” Trump tweeted about the exchange, which first aired last week.

Dennard, 36, has been active in national Republican Party politics since 2000, when as a teenager he spoke at the Republican National Convention with then-vice presidential nominee Richard B. Cheney applauding in the audience.

In 2005, after graduating from college, he worked as an intern in the White House political affairs office and parlayed the spot into a full-time job. By 2007, according to a biography on his website, Dennard was working with the White House’s advance team and had been named White House outreach director to the black community.

He then worked at the Republican National Committee as associate director of coalitions, according to his biography, before joining the McCain Institute in the fall of 2013.

Dennard was an early and outspoken supporter for Trump during the 2016 campaign. Combined, he has appeared on CNN and NPR over 100 times, often defending Trump on everything from his record of false statements to rolling back race-based admission policies to using a vulgar word to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.

In December, Trump appointed Dennard to the commission on White House fellowships, which selects those who will work in the White House for one of the nation’s premier public service programs.

ASU’s 13-page investigative report describes a series of inappropriate incidents often initiated by Dennard with the two women in 2013 and 2014. The second woman said Dennard would sometimes throw things at her and that she caught Dennard looking at her breasts. When she tried to adjust her blouse, he said “Don’t worry, I’ve already seen it.” Dennard acknowledged making the comment, or something similar to it, according to the report.

Dennard also admitted to touching the first woman’s “neck with his tongue,” according to the report. In that instance, Dennard “came up behind EMPLOYEE 1 during another [McCain Institute] event and whispered in her ear that he wanted to ‘f---’ her.”

The report says Dennard and one of the women socialized outside the office and engaged in “banter of a sexual nature.”

Even so, it says, Dennard “engaged in much of this behavior in the workplace and/or during work events. Such conduct, of course, is inappropriate . . . unprofessional and unbecoming of a university employee, and in violation of ASU policy.”

The report concludes that Dennard was found to have engaged in “serious misconduct.” He was placed on administrative leave at the outset of the investigation in fall 2014 and was “involuntarily separated” from his post in early 2015, according to a university official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a personnel matter.

The women are quoted in the report saying they did not want him to lose his job but feared him returning. “We all know what it’s like to be on [Dennard’s] bad side — he will make your life miserable,” one said. “What if he comes back to the office? What if he comes to an event? Does he know where I live?”

Dennard’s departure was announced internally at a McCain Institute meeting in 2015, according to two people who were there, but the reason for his departure was not made public and he went on to become an increasingly sought-after commentator.

In another sharp exchange on CNN earlier this year over Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s ­then-alleged payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, Republican strategist Rick Wilson blasted Dennard for saying the actions were irrelevant because they were from before Trump was president. “The fact that you’re defending him,” Wilson said, “speaks much more about your character and what low standards you have.”

Dennard fired back: “You can dig up dirty laundry and I pray to God that nobody goes back in your past and picks up something that has nothing to do with your present time as sitting here as a commentator.”