The recent Capitol Hill hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may have been the biggest flashpoint of the #metoo movement to date. The hearings raised the question of standards, in the #metoo era. Are women to be believed based solely on an unproven allegation? If corroboration is required, then what's good enough? And who gets to decide? Those are some of the tricky questions raised by abuse allegations made against a top Democrat official Congressman Keith Ellison by an ex-girlfriend who spoke to Sharyl this week.
Karen Monahan— a Sierra Club organizer born in Iran— had a long-term, but rocky romantic relationship with Congressman Keith Ellison.
Karen Monahan: I met Keith Ellison when I was doing community organizing work.
Monahan now claims Ellison, the number two official in the national Democratic party, subjected her to long term psychological abuse and one instance of physical abuse.
Sharyl: I’m going to ask this question at the beginning because I know in this environment a lot of people are going to want to know: are you a Democrat or Republican or something else?
Monahan: All my life, I voted Democrat.
Monahan was home lying on the bed in August 2016, she says, when an argument started before Ellison left on a trip.
Monahan: He walked in, he asked me to take out the trash. I shook my head, yes, but I kept looking down at my phone.
She claims she managed to video some of what happened next on her phone. We only know because her adult son told about the video on social media. But she’s declined to show us or anyone else, saying it’s traumatizing and embarrassing.
Monahan: I just wanted him to leave. And when I didn't look up; look up at him and I shook my head, that’s when he said, “Hey, I'm ----ing talking to you! You need to listen!” And I was stunned and that's when he grabbed my ankles and said, “You need to get the ---- out. You need to get the ---- out now.” And he started grabbing my ankles, trying to pull me out the bed, told me I was a “bad guest.”
Sharyl: You were a guest in his house?
Monahan: I lived there.
Sharyl: What happened after that?
Monahan: He kept trying to pull me. I put my body weight— he didn't pull me off the bed. He was trying to drag me off the bed and then he looked down, I guess, and knocked my flip flop off my— I had flip flop house shoes on— knocked it off my foot and told me I better be “the ---- out of this house.”
Monahan claims that capped off years of psychological abuse. Afterward, they patched things up off and on until they broke up for good in January 2017. That’s when Monahan became an advocate; frequently speaking of domestic abuse on social media, but never mentioning Ellison by name. Four months after the breakup, Ellison sent a threatening text message.
Andrew Parker is Monahan’s attorney.
Andrew Parker: And I'll quote— Mr. Ellison says in the text, “Karen, I cannot allow you to publish material about me. You may not publish material about our relationship. Karen, I mean it. Please don't make me prove to you that I am serious.”
Ellison would later tell investigators he was only threatening legal action; nothing more. The two kept in touch. He said he missed her, she frequently texted of her need to heal, his supposed need to get help, and she twice texted about the alleged physical abuse.
Monahan: And then, “Keith, we never discussed the video I have of you trying to drag me off the bed, yelling ‘get the f----- out now,’ calling me a bitch, and saying ‘I hate you -----.’”
Sharyl: Last June, the night before Ellison announced he was running for Minnesota attorney general, he and Monahan met up at her request.
Monahan: And he asked me about that, you know, “I don't want to look over my shoulder and wonder, you know, basically when you're going to say it was me.” And I mentioned the abuse during that meeting and he looked at me, he goes, “Oh, I don't remember it being that way.” And I looked at him and said, “And that's a problem.”
Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, Monahan says she soon did reveal it was Ellison who’d allegedly abused her. But instead of being believed, she was viciously attacked and called a liar. No advocacy groups reached out. No prominent Democrats came to her defense.
Monahan: I shared my story, my vulnerability. I've shared intimate texts and I'm still getting smeared, still getting bullied, still victim shamed.
While Monahan fended off critics, out of the blue came the 36 year old allegation against Supreme Court nominee Bret Kavanaugh.
Christine Ford: He began running his hands over my body and grinding into me.
Monahan says the support that important people in her political party gave to Professor Christine Ford compared to her led her to ask: Are women to be believed except when they accuse certain powerful Democrats?
The Minnesota Democratic Party launched an investigation into Monahan’s allegation limited to the single claim of physical abuse. Though he wouldn’t speak with us, Ellison firmly denied it to investigators and in a local news interview.
Ellison: Cause I never did that. It simply didn’t happen.
Monahan turned over to investigators medical records from nearly a year ago showing she’d reported ‘emotional and physical abuse’ by Congressman Ellison. Three witnesses testified Monahan described the alleged physical attack to them in the months after it happened, telling one “she was scared of Mr. Ellison.”
Parker: It certainly is far more evidence than Dr. Ford had in the Kavanaugh case.
But it wasn’t enough. A week and a half ago, the Minnesota Democrats’ investigation found: Both Monahan and Ellison were credible. “An allegation standing alone is not necessarily sufficient to conclude that conduct occurred” Conclusion: Physical abuse could not be substantiated.”
In short, Democrat officials said Ford’s claim alone was enough to believe her, but rejected Monahan’s even though it was backed by witnesses and medical records.
Parker: The same people that are questioning Ms. Monahan, the people who say they stand up and support women against abuse and violence, they're silent. Many others are not just silent but are smearing and attacking Ms. Monahan even though she is just telling her story.
Sharyl: We hear the slogan, “women are to be believed,” and yet you haven't been the recipient of that benefit of the doubt by some people. What does that say to you?
Monahan: I had one side talking about anti-Muslim rhetoric. I have the other side totally disregarding that I'm a woman. I'm a woman of color. I come from a Muslim country. I am an immigrant. They're saying mine’s not a “me too” story. Basically, they're saying, you're invisible here, here, here, here. I'm not invisible. And I’m taking up space.
However, Monahan later told us that what she actually told the investigator was: “This isn't about an election, people can vote for whoever they like. It doesn't matter if he wins or not, I will still be ok."