WASHINGTON — A website defending former Congress member Ruben Kihuen, who left office last year following a #MeToo scandal, names and attempts to dismantle the stories of three women who have accused him of sexual harassment — two of whom had not previously come forward publicly.
The website, which has shocked Nevada political circles, came to the spotlight following a BuzzFeed News report Tuesday that focused on the Las Vegas city council seat Kihuen is now running for. BuzzFeed News is not linking to the site, which contains several inaccuracies, because it outs alleged victims of sexual harassment without their consent. The site also includes photos of the three women.
BuzzFeed News reached out to the three women named on the website; only one chose to comment on Wednesday, and another was not immediately available.
“I cannot possibly understand how anyone has enough evil in their heart to publicly out harassment victims and push a smear campaign against them,” Samantha Register, the first woman to accuse Kihuen of sexual harassment in a BuzzFeed News article, wrote in a statement. When Register first accused Kihuen, BuzzFeed News withheld her name, but she later became the only woman to accuse Kihuen on the record when she published a Nevada Independent op-ed earlier this year.
“I've been willing to share my story on the record using my full name, but the other two women weren't and it's disgusting that anyone would publish their identity without their consent. We're not celebrities. We're private citizens trying to move on with our lives, which is increasingly difficult when Mr. Kihuen and his allies continue to publicly attack us.”
The House Ethics Committee investigated multiple accusations of sexual harassment against Kihuen, including from Register, last year and found that Kihuen made “persistent and unwanted advances” toward the women in the report (identified only as “Campaign Staffer,” “DC Firm Employee,” and “Nevada Lobbyist”). The committee further added that similarities in their allegations “[bolstered] the credibility of the complainants.”
The committee “did not find Representative Kihuen’s denials on these matters to be credible, especially when considered next to strong documentary and testimonial evidence to the contrary. By contrast, the ISC found Representative Kihuen’s complainants to be credible and forthcoming,” their report states.
BuzzFeed News was unable to immediately verify that all three women named on the website were in fact the women who spoke to the House Ethics Committee.
On Wednesday morning, Kihuen distanced himself from the website, adding that Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones made him aware of it on Tuesday night.
“Neither me nor my campaign were aware of the website before being contacted by Mr. Jones,” Kihuen said on Twitter. “I don’t support website and attorneys for our campaign will ask its author to take it down immediately.”
Kihuen did not respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News on whether he knew who the author was and for additional comment.
At the bottom of the website is a statement that reads, “This website is not affiliated, sanctioned, or funded by Ruben Kihuen, his campaign, or the Democratic party.”
It’s unclear who created the website, but its domain was registered on March 7, according to public records, which do not list who or what entity is responsible for it. The site went live a day after BuzzFeed News texted Kihuen on March 6 to notify him that it was working on an article about the race in Las Vegas. Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston also noted in a column about the website that it went live “shortly after Kihuen had his lawyer send [him] a threatening letter.”
"People are just finding out about [the website] today," LaLo Montoya, the political director of Make the Road Nevada, a nonprofit that works with immigrants, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday morning. (Make the Road Action Nevada has endorsed one of Kihuen’s opponents in the city council race.)
Several other sources told BuzzFeed News that people in the tight-knit Nevada political circle were all talking about the website. One member of the Nevada Assembly tweeted a lengthy thread about the website, calling it an “utterly disgusting victim-shaming website” and referring to the decision to name women who had not come forward as “new acts of harassment.”
“The site seems to identify accusers who have not gone public to date. Correct or not this is a violation of the privacy and agency of these women. They should decide if and when they wish to make their identities known, period,” tweeted Assembly member Howard Watts III.
The No Means No, Ruben, PAC, which is running an active campaign against Kihuen, also condemned the website.
“Grotesque attacks like this are a big reason why victims don’t speak out. Not only were these women sexually harassed by Ruben Kihuen and forced to re-live it through a long congressional investigation, they are now being publicly named and called liars by an anonymous website,” said a joint statement from the campaign, Nevada Assembly member Heidi Swank, and Maria-Teresa Liebermann, the volunteer outreach lead for the campaign.
Swank founded the campaign, and it is backed by Nevada Values PAC. The campaign has been canvassing against Kihuen and has a small paid staff.
“If Mr. Kihuen and his allies are trying to intimidate me into silence, they're wasting their time. It's not going to work,” Register said.