Kamala Harris Abandoned Church Abuse Victims While San Francisco's DA, Report Finds

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Politicians always have to face opposition research done by opponents’ campaigns, especially when running for president. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has already had a long public career that makes the research easy for everyone.

Harris’s accounts of her tenure as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general don’t always sync up with her actual records in each office. The media began taking her to task over her record even before her campaign launched.

The Intercept now reports that Harris essentially abandoned the work her predecessor had done to seek justice for survivors of sexual abuse from Catholic clergy in the Archdiocese of San Francisco:

When Harris became San Francisco district attorney in 2004, she took over an office that had been working closely with survivors of sexual abuse to pursue cases against the Catholic Church. The office and the survivors were in the middle of a legal battle to hold predatory priests accountable, and Harris inherited a collection of personnel files involving allegations of sexual abuse by priests and employees of the San Francisco Archdiocese, which oversees church operations in San Francisco, and Marin and San Mateo counties.

Harris’s predecessor in the DA’s office was very progressive, so her about-face can’t be attributed to pure political vindictiveness. Her abrupt shift was jarring and unexpected.

In her seven years as district attorney, Harris’s office did not proactively assist in civil cases against clergy sex abuse and ignored requests by activists and survivors to access the cache of investigative files that could have helped them secure justice, according to several victims of clergy sex abuse living in California who spoke to The Intercept.

“It went from Terence Hallinan going hundred miles an hour, full speed ahead, after the Catholic Church to Kamala Harris doing absolutely nothing and taking it backwards hundred miles an hour,” said Joey Piscitelli, a sexual assault survivor, who a jury found had been molested as a student while attending Salesian College Preparatory, a Catholic high school in Richmond, California.

Piscitelli had met with Hallinan’s office to discuss his case and the ongoing investigation into the church. But, he said, when Harris took over, his access to the office was shut off and his requests for clergy abuse files were ignored.

The explanation given in the article for Harris’s backing off is that she was doing it “in deference to the Catholic Church, which has historically held sway as a major political force in San Francisco.”

If that were the case, why was Hallinan not afraid of the archdiocese when he was being so aggressive?

The article explains that the archdiocese can still influence some voters “among Irish, Italian, and Latin American immigrant communities.”

It also notes, however, that the archdiocese readily complied with Hallinan’s request for files.

Harris is no doubt the kind of ambitious politician who mapped out her career path to the White House at an early age. It’s plausible to think that she’s keen on avoiding any hiccups along the way. She may simply have been trying to appease an institution which she viewed as a political power broker.

Harris is fond of talking about her toughness as a prosecutor. It’s a story that even liberal-leaning media outlets aren’t buying.

Her calculated move up through the ranks of the Democratic Party makes her appear to be a tougher politician than she ever was as a district attorney or California’s attorney general.

It will be interesting to see if any of Harris’s primary opponents aggressively hit her with the negative press about the stark difference between her rhetoric and record, especially in the early going.

My contention has always been that she’s still a contender for either spot on the 2020 ticket despite her present polling. Should Crazy Joe the Wonder Veep win the nomination, she will almost certainly be the odds-on favorite to be his running mate.

If her opponents want to weaken her, they will need to bring all of this to light early.

Or they can spend all that time rending their garments over climate change.