Ex-Aide Says Feinstein Hindered Bias Claim Against Princeton : Politics: Senator replies that she did not threaten to fire the former student but told him not to imply that his complaint was official business.
A former Princeton University student who worked for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Tuesday that she threatened to fire him if he did not cease pursuing his racial discrimination complaint against the university and federal officials.
The Democratic senator denied the charges, which were described in a news conference by Paul McDonald, 23, of Houston. Feinstein said she never tried to stop McDonald from pursuing his charges and only insisted that he avoid using his employment in her office in any private correspondence.
“Paul was not discharged from this office. He was not asked to stop pursuing his complaint,” Feinstein said in a written statement. “He was only asked to not use office time to pursue his complaint and to not make it seem that his communication was connected to the official functions of the Senate office.”
McDonald, who is African American, said Tuesday that Feinstein and her advisers “demeaned me and disparaged the seriousness of my complaints.”
McDonald was hired by Feinstein in September in the entry-level job of legislative correspondent. In December, Feinstein said, McDonald wrote to every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which she serves, asking for an investigation into charges of racial discrimination he had made against Princeton University and the U.S. Department of Education.
“In his correspondence, Paul included his business card and asked members to contact him at my office,” Feinstein said in remarks on the Senate floor Monday.
He and Feinstein agree that they signed an agreement afterward that barred him from associating future requests with her office.
But according to Feinstein, McDonald sent a second letter in January to committee members that Feinstein’s office found deficient for two reasons. It included his office phone number, which is easily recognizable among senators, and again did not make clear it was a strictly personal request.
“This is a case of a recent college graduate who did not understand the ramifications of making personal correspondence seem official,” Feinstein spokesman Bill Chandler said.
McDonald said he was told in a May 9 meeting that he was fired and was discharged May 13.
Feinstein said he voluntarily resigned May 27 after being given 3 1/2 months to find a new job.
McDonald now works for Rep. Barbara B. Kennelly (D-Conn.).
In his remarks Tuesday, McDonald cited support from Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.), the only black senator, for his discrimination complaint with the Department of Education. But Moseley-Braun issued a statement strongly backing Feinstein.
“Sen. Feinstein has extended herself on behalf of Mr. McDonald with extraordinary patience and support. It is most regrettable that her repayment for the kindness is a baseless charge of discrimination. Months ago, I recommended to Sen. Feinstein that she fire Mr. McDonald.”
McDonald’s complaints against Princeton charge that administrators passed him over for academic promotions, tried to undermine his agenda as student body president and wrongly placed him on disciplinary probation for using university materials to inform minority students of their right to file charges against the university.
The Department of Education’s civil rights office did not find any wrongdoing by Princeton. McDonald’s complaint accuses the department of covering up the matter and failing to enforce his civil rights.
McDonald said he received “no outside prompting” to go public with the charges and said his father, Walter, was paying the costs of hiring a public relations firm to assist in the Tuesday announcement, held at the National Press Club.