SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A standoff is escalating over accusations of sexual misconduct against an influential New Mexico state senator amid frustrations with the secretive vetting process, a free-speech lawsuit and a complaint to the FBI.
Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, a gatekeeper on election reforms and arbiter of partisan clashes over voting regulations since the 2020 election, announced this week that an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him had been “indefinitely suspended, with no further action to be taken."
A document published Thursday by The Santa Fe Reporter shows, however, that a special counsel to the investigation concluded there was probable cause to indicate that Ivey-Soto violated anti-harassment policies.
Contacted Thursday, Ivey-Soto challenged the accuracy and diligence of research by the special counsel, citing other documents that remain confidential. He said the leak encourages a rush to judgement, undermining detailed investigations by a four-person Senate panel.
Ivey-Soto also said the legal memo was published after he received an ultimatum to resign as chairman of a Senate committee that vets major legislative initiatives and political appointments — or see the report leaked.
He said he filed an “extortion” complaint Thursday with the FBI. FBI spokesman Frank Fisher said the agency “can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque said she helped inform Ivey-Soto through a “go-between” that other people might release investigation documents if he didn’t step down from top committee posts.
“I thought this could help — he steps down and tries to rehabilitate himself,” Stewart said. “I didn’t want the report out, I thought the report was supposed to be confidential.”
Fallout from allegations against Ivey-Soto are prompting calls for a revision to anti-harassment policies and training that were overhauled in 2018, amid complaints then by female lobbyists and elected officials that widespread sexual harassment at the Capitol was going unchecked.
Marianna Anaya, the lobbyist who filed the initial harassment complaint against Ivey-Soto, says current confidentiality provisions favor lawmakers over people who report sexual misconduct and confront an "open-ended gag order."
She filed a lawsuit Thursday, challenging a law that prohibits her from disclosing information related to the filing or investigation of a harassment complaint without a finding of “probably cause” first by a Senate panel.
Anaya's harassment complaint to the Legislature in February was accompanied by an open letter to the public that accused Ivey-Soto of groping her at a hotel reception in 2015 and of more recent aggressive and disrespectful behavior while discussing proposed legislation over drinks. She called on the lawmaker to resign.
Ivey-Soto said he has no recollection of touching Anaya during the encounter and that their encounters over the years were never sexual. The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual assault, but Anaya has been openly public about her allegations and prior advocacy against harassment.
Political lobbyists and advocates urged action on Anaya’s complaint by publishing additional accusations against Ivey-Soto of groping, sexist comments, and yelling and cursing at women.
Stewart said Friday that a harassment policy review is overdue, while she searches for a resolution to the current crisis as the Senate's top ranked leader.
Representatives from dozens of advocacy groups have petitioned for Ivey-Soto's demotion or resignation. “It's just a huge drum beat,” Stewart said.