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A political group’s hiring of Mark Halperin draws protests from staffers

Mark Halperin during a panel discussion in Washington in May 2017. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Showtime)
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A nonpartisan political organization is facing blowback from its employees after hiring journalist Mark Halperin, whose career as a prominent TV pundit hit a wall after he faced multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Junior staffers at No Labels objected this week when the organization hired Halperin, co-author of the best-selling campaign chronicle “Game Change.” The internal dissension grew so heated that two employees who complained were granted paid leave — to consider whether they want to stay, the organization said — and a third is considering resigning over it.

“A small number of our colleagues are still working through how they feel about this,” a senior official at No Labels, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel decisions, said Thursday, “and we are respectful of that.”

Halperin’s career as a political analyst collapsed at the start of the MeToo era in 2017 after at least a dozen women, including former colleagues, came forward with allegations against him ranging from unwanted touching to sexual assault. Since then he has taken small steps back into public life. He wrote a book about the 2020 presidential election, started a newsletter, and began turning up as a commentator on relatively low-profile radio and TV outlets such as Newsmax.

Earlier this week, No Labels hired him as a consultant for an unspecified project. But the move didn’t sit well with some of No Labels’ employees, most of whom are young women.

Some staffers questioned why No Labels’ founder and chief executive, Nancy Jacobson, was determined to hire Halperin, despite his baggage, when other experienced and capable political communicators are available. Jacobson told several people that she could hire Halperin at relatively low cost because he is eager to regain a foothold in the mainstream political world, said people familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve their relationships.

No Labels’ co-executive directors Margaret White and Liz Morrison defended Halperin’s hiring in public statements this week. But Morrison later acknowledged that “two employees accepted our offer to take paid time off to think about what they wanted to do” in the wake of discussions about Halperin.

She added that “we support and respect their point of view, just as we do the decision of one of our colleagues to perhaps leave our organization.”

The senior official said offers of paid time off came from a place of “true compassion for our staff, not to force them to make a decision.” One of the staffers has since told them she has made her peace with the hiring of Halperin, who will work from New York and not in the Washington office. Follow-up conversations with the other staffers who raised objections have not yet happened, this person added.

Halperin’s fall was swift in the wake of the accusations against him in late 2017. NBC and MSNBC dropped him as a contributor, and Showtime removed him as co-host of its politics show “The Circus.” Penguin Press and HBO shelved plans they had built around a book he was writing about the 2016 election.

Halperin, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, offered blanket apologies for his behavior, which he called “aggressive and crude,” and met with some of his accusers to offer his remorse, while denying several specific allegations of violent physical behavior. Despite his efforts to make amends, none of his former employers have rehired him.

No Labels seemed to offer some measure of respectability. The organization is a nonprofit think tank and political-advocacy group that promotes bipartisan approaches to public-policy issues.

It was founded in 2010 by Jacobson, a former finance chair for the Democratic National Committee, and is co-chaired by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Joe Lieberman (I), the former senator from Connecticut and 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidate. No Labels helped encourage the formation of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of Republican and Democratic members who meet regularly to seek consensus on issues.

White and Morrison said in a joint statement that No Labels’ senior staff — all women, they noted — “are pleased to be collaborating with Mark Halperin as a consultant to our organization” and that they believe he “has taken the rigorous and restorative steps toward those he has hurt required to earn a second chance.”

While describing Halperin’s past treatment of women as “reprehensible” in a statement to Punchbowl News on Tuesday, White said his misconduct occurred before he left ABC News as its political director in 2007. Halperin has maintained the same timeline: “My conduct in subsequent jobs at Time, Bloomberg, NBC News, and Showtime has not been what it was at ABC,” he said in a statement in 2017.

But in 2017, a former Tulane University student contradicted this argument, saying in an interview with the Daily Beast that he inappropriately touched her and invited her to his hotel room when they met at a dinner party given by political advisers James Carville and Mary Matalin in 2011. Katharine Glenn, now an attorney, said this week she questions No Labels’ decision to hire him.

“They say he’s reformed,” she said, “but they’re putting all their employees at risk if he isn’t.”