In the wake of the allegations made by Tara Reade against then-presidential candidate Joe Biden in 2020, Maya Wiley co-authored a thoughtful essay framing how to respond to such claims in a fraught time.
“Accepting the allegation and investigating it is what we mean when we say believe all women. Corroboration is key here,” Wiley wrote of Reade’s allegation, adding that “believing women doesn’t mean we don’t also ask for further information, context and clarification.”
Wiley at the time recommended “assessing the accused’s credibility and response to the allegation in comparison to the credibility of the accuser and supporting evidence.”
Wiley is now running for New York City mayor, a race that was upended last week by an allegation of sexual abuse and harassment by Jean Kim against another candidate, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. Many of the progressive groups and elected officials who had backed him abruptly withdrew their support before engaging in any such process of investigation.
Upon closer examination, however, The Intercept has found evidence contradicting elements of Kim’s claims.
The explosive news initially broke on April 28 by the local Gothamist in an article headlined “Former Campaign Intern Accuses Scott Stringer Of Sexual Abuse, Harassment.” It described Kim’s allegation, made in a statement provided by her attorney, that in 2001, while she was working as an intern on his campaign for New York City public advocate, Stringer “kissed me using his tongue, put his hand down my pants and groped me inside my underpants.” “I pulled away and tried to avoid him,” she said. Later that day, at a press conference, Kim reiterated her allegations, setting off a spiral of denunciations from rivals and former supporters of Stringer. Stringer flatly denied the allegation, saying he and Kim had been involved in an on-again, off-again consensual relationship — a “light relationship,” he called it at one point.
Kim, in an interview with local media, denied a consensual relationship with Stringer of any kind, leaving three major open questions and many more minor ones. The biggest question — whether Stringer groped Kim without consent — is unanswerable without witnesses or corroborating evidence, neither of which has so far been presented by Kim or her attorney or reported elsewhere. But an attempt to confirm Kim’s role on the campaign and the nature of her relationship to Stringer has produced evidence that paints a different portrait of the power dynamic at play.
Kim, in the statement, said that she was hired as an unpaid intern on Stringer’s campaign after she was introduced to him, then a candidate for public advocate, in 2001 by Eric Schneiderman, the former New York attorney general who resigned in disgrace in 2018 following multiple, credible allegations of assault. “In 2001, she met Eric Schneiderman when he was running for state Senator. Schneiderman introduced her to Scott Stringer, who at the time was the head of the Community Free Democratic Club on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Jean joined the club and became immersed in its activities,” her attorney, Patricia Pastor, said at the press conference.
A number of sources, including documents and records from the time, cast doubt on Kim’s claim to have met Stringer for the first time in 2001. While Kim claimed to have been an unpaid intern on the Stringer’s 2001 campaign for public advocate, others involved in the campaign said that by that point she was already an established member of the group’s social set helping out a friend running for office.
Three longtime mutual friends of Stringer and Kim, who declined to speak on the record for fear of facing professional reprisal, said that the friendship between the two went back to the 1990s — when both were part of two social and political clubs: Community Free Democrats and DL21c, a young urban professional Democratic leadership group — and extended well into the next decade.
The sources, who worked or volunteered for Stringer’s 2001 campaign for public advocate and knew both Stringer and Kim, supported Stringer’s version of the story, each saying that the pair were in a casual relationship and that Stringer’s description of it as a “light relationship” matches with their own impression.
“They definitely had a more-than-friends relationship,” said one woman who volunteered for the campaign and was friends with both Stringer and Kim. She asked not to be named so as not to have her name “plastered across the newspapers,” but, like the others, recalled the pair getting cozy at bars, or walking with arms around each other, among other signs of intimacy that buttressed a widespread understanding of the nature of their relationship.
Pastor, at the press conference, said that Kim would not be answering questions. “If anyone has any follow-up questions, you can contact me,” she said. “Please do not attempt to contact my client, Ms. Kim. She will not be giving direct statements.” Pastor declined to comment for this article or to make Kim available.
A fourth source, the field director for Stringer’s 2001 campaign, said he ran the campaign’s internship program and only hired high school and college students. Kim, who was 30 years old at the time, was described by Stringer as a volunteer. “She was a volunteer, as many of my friends were volunteers,” he said.
Kim has made much of the status of intern, saying that her decision to come forward was connected to the way she was treated. “I said, ‘I can’t take this anymore.’ Especially when I know what he did to me, what I believed he did to other interns, it just sickened me and I couldn’t sit still,” Kim told local PIX11 news, explaining others had told her, “Scott has an intern problem.”
The claim that Kim and Stringer knew each other prior to 2001 is also supported by membership and donation records. Community Free Democratic Club records obtained by The Intercept show that Kim became a dues-paying member of the club on January 27, 2000. People involved in the club said that it is rare, if not unheard of, for a person to become a dues-paying member of the club on their first visit. Stringer, club members said, never missed a meeting — gatherings of only several dozen people — meaning the two likely would have met earlier.
And, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Kim first donated to Stringer’s campaign in May 1999, kicking in $25, along with $50 a month later. She made three more contributions between then and 2001. There was little infrastructure at the time for small donors to make online contributions to local candidates, so the amounts are consistent with the types of social fundraisers common to New York City politics, often hosted in bars or restaurants. As Stringer’s campaign heated up, his social set rallied for him, volunteering on nights and weekends while holding down day jobs. Kim was no different, said the friends. The donation records also list her as working for a PR agency called Trimedia. At the press conference, Kim explained the job as necessary because she wasn’t being paid by Stringer. “I worked at a PR agency. Since I was unpaid at this job, I needed to pay my bills,” Kim said.
Two versions of the Stringer-Kim relationship have been put forward. Kim’s version is that she was an unpaid intern preyed upon by a powerful politician, with whom she never had a consensual relationship. Stringer’s is that Kim was part of an Upper West Side peer group and the two had a consensual, if casual, relationship. Between those two versions, of course, is an endless gray area, and it is easily conceivable that Kim is wrong about when they first met, wrong about her role on the campaign, lying about whether they were in a casual relationship, and yet was still the victim of an overly aggressive Stringer who crossed lines.
Other nontrivial discrepancies have emerged about what happened in the years following the alleged assault. Kim claimed that, after the experience with Stringer, she left Community Free Democrats. “She had few friends in the city, outside of the club, and she viewed the club members as her surrogate family. She did not want to risk losing them in the event that Stringer chose to use influence against her. She also knew that Stringer was well connected in New York, and she feared that he could negatively impact her future and her career,” her attorney said at the press conference. “Alternately, Jean moved across town, to the East Side, and quit the club.”
Club records show she remained a dues-paying member at least through 2006. Members of the club remember her attending events and remaining involved for many years after. Her 2013 résumé lists her as a member of the group. An email from April 2013 that she wrote to an associate, reviewed by The Intercept, describes an evening she had just spent with the club. Simply put, her claim to have quit the group after an alleged assault is demonstrably false, as she remained involved in the group for at least another decade.
In 2005, Kim was an active volunteer on Stringer’s campaign for Manhattan borough president, according to two people with knowledge. Unlike his bid for public advocate four years earlier, this one was successful. In 2008, when Stringer ran for reelection as borough president, Kim began donating to him again, making two modest contributions. She also made a contribution in May 2010 to his upcoming NYC comptroller campaign. (Kim over the years has made more than $9,000 in contributions to a slew of Democratic candidates, according to campaign finance records.)
Kim also said that she had never applied for work with Stringer’s 2013 campaign for comptroller, but the Stringer campaign subsequently produced an email Kim sent, résumé attached, asking whether she could be helpful on the campaign. Kim ended up volunteering for Stringer’s opponent, Eliot Spitzer, instead. Spitzer had been expected to dominate the field given his name recognition, but Stringer pulled off an upset. Kim’s contributions to Stringer’s political career stopped.
In 2006, Kim started lobbying, on a freelance basis, for TLM Associates, where she has remained as of recently. Since 2015, TLM has represented the American Petroleum Institute, Bank of America, and a slew of other corporate, nonprofit, and developer clients. Stringer, as comptroller, led the largest divestment from fossil fuels in the world.
Last week, Stringer’s campaign accused Kim of working for Andrew Yang’s rival mayoral campaign. Kim denied this and has said she remains undecided on her choice for mayor. But public records show she collected petitions for a slate of candidates including Yang as recently as March. In October 2020, she gave $50 to Maya Wiley’s mayoral bid.
Again, none of this information on its own means that Kim’s allegation is false. A person who collected signatures for Yang still has the standing to make an allegation of abuse by another candidate. As the Harvey Weinstein case showed, victims of abuse can later say positive things about them or seek their help advancing professionally.
The current standard, journalistically, for reporting a sexual harassment or assault allegation, is to present corroborating evidence from the time of the alleged incident. Kim’s attorney was asked by a reporter if Kim told “anybody at the time, contemporaneously, or in the years following, that she was harassed by Mr. Stringer?”
“Yes, she did,” Pastor said. “We’re not going to provide any of that information today. Thank you for the question.” So far, no corroborating evidence has been presented, no friends or relatives who say they heard the story from Kim years earlier.
But progressive groups, elected officials, and Stringer’s opponents alike wasted no time weighing in. Progressive state Sens. Alessandra Biaggi and Julia Salazar, state Assembly Members Catalina Cruz and Yuh-Line Niou, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman all withdrew their support of Stringer. The Working Families Party, one of Stringer’s most high-profile endorsers, dropped its support of the candidate.
“Jean Kim shared her experience of sexual assault and Scott Stringer failed to acknowledge and consider his responsibility for that harm,” the statement read, condemning Stringer for denying the allegation. The Sunrise Movement — which, like WFP, stepped back from its support of congressional candidate Alex Morse last year after bogus allegations were leveled at him — also dropped its support of Stringer.
Even Wiley called for Stringer to step aside. “It is time for Scott Stringer to remove himself from this race,” she said.
“The best case scenario in the story is that Scott Stringer doesn’t understand when someone says no,” Wiley added. “There is simply no man who can tell a woman whether or not she has consented to a sexual relationship — that is not how it works.”
Stringer, however, has vowed to stay in.