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Herbster ‘unequivocally’ denies claims of sexual misconduct, calling reports a ‘dirty political trick’

Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub calls accusations from State Sen. Julie Slama into question
A heated he-said/she-said between Republican candidate for governor Charles Herbster and State Sen. Julie Slama.
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 11:41 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 2:21 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster and his campaign issued statements Thursday “unequivocally” denying the sexual misconduct claims made against him calling them “Rickett’s [sic] political hit piece.”

Eight women, including State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling, told the Examiner that Herbster grabbed them inappropriately: Some said he touched them on their buttocks outside their clothes; Slama said he reached up her skirt; another woman said he cornered her privately and kissed her forcibly. Herbster denied the allegations calling the claims “a political hit-piece,” according to the Examiner.

Both Slama and Herbster went on KFAB talk radio on Thursday night to discuss the allegations.

On air, Herbster said he had nothing to hide as he continued to emphatically deny all allegations of sexual impropriety: “I absolutely 100% deny these accusations, whatever person they are from. ... Everything that is going on is pure B.S.”

Pointing out that he had placed women in prominent positions in his businesses, he told KFAB that he has always respected women.

“I have spent my life respecting ladies, respecting women regardless of their age,” he said. “I can assure you I have empowered them.”

He said the allegations are nothing new, and all part of the atmosphere of politics.

“I heard these accusations and rumors over a year ago,” he said. “That’s what takes place when you are in politics — when you are leading the race.”

Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub called accusations from State Sen. Julie Slama about gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster into question.

The alleged incidents happened in either greeting or exit lines or during photo ops at political events or beauty pageants.

Herbster said Thursday night on KFAB that his attorneys were drafting a lawsuit, and said he remained determined to become the next governor of Nebraska.

“I will be suing to defend my name and reputation,” he said.

During her interview, Slama offered explanations to some of the questions raised by those doubting her allegations.

“There’s a huge power differential between a 22-year-old newly appointed state senator and one of the biggest donors in the Nebraska Republican Party,” she told KFAB. “(Herbster)’s a multimillionaire. I was scared — and I’m scared now to come forward and share my story.”

It was Herbster’s influence in the Nebraska GOP that prompted an invitation to her destination wedding in 2021.

“We invited over 1,000 people… knowing only a handful of close friends would come,” she said, and the wedding invitation list co-mingled with a campaign donor list that included the groom’s political contacts as well.

“Without me knowing (Herbster) was invited, I was horrified that he RSVP’d and said he was coming to the wedding,” Slama said on KFAB. “It was a scary thought to have the man who sexually assaulted me RSVP and saying he was coming to my wedding.“

Saying she has “everything to lose… nothing to gain,” Slama said she and the seven other women who came forward were being intimidated — and it was because of those women that she was coming forward now.

But with the primary election just weeks away, she also acknowledged the political ramifications were on her mind.

“If he wins, I have to work with him for 2-6 years,“ she said on the radio. “My only interest in this is to protect it from happening to other young women because they don’t deserve it.”

In his statement Thursday afternoon, Herbster pointed the finger at Gov. Pete Ricketts and Jim Pillen, the GOP gubernatorial candidate endorsed by the governor, saying in his statement that the accusations were “a ridiculous, unfounded dirty political trick” that the two were executing together.

“These libelous accusations are 100% false. For over thirty years, I’ve employed hundreds of people. I’ve respected and empowered women to run my company, my farm and now my campaign. Not once has my integrity EVER been challenged in this manner. It’s only after I’ve threatened the stranglehold the establishment has on this state do they stoop to lies this large. This story is a ridiculous, unfounded dirty political trick being carried out by Pete Ricketts and Jim Pillen.

For nearly a year now, Governor Ricketts and Jim Pillen’s campaign team have peddled this made-up story from one news outlet to another without any success. Now, with time running out, they’ve turned to a leftists news site to pick up and repeat their garbage. The fake-news story is based upon shadowy, unnamed sources and one person who was appointed by Governor Ricketts and her family has benefited from Governor Ricketts’ patronage for years. This isn’t bad journalism — it’s libelous fake news.”

Charles Herbster, Republican candidate for Nebraska governor

While Herbster, who made campaign stops Wednesday in central and western Nebraska with Donald Trump Jr. after being endorsed early in his campaign by former President Trump, said in his statement that the allegations weren’t bad journalism, his campaign manager, Ellen Keast, said it wasn’t a credible news story and criticized the victims for not going on the record. Her statement did not mention Slama, who has been on the record since the initial report from the Examiner.

The campaign also accused Ricketts and Pillen of implementing shady tactics throughout the gubernatorial campaign.

Keast said the campaign’s legal team was “taking every possible action... to hold those involved in the libelous smear campaign accountable.”

“This isn’t a credible news story, it’s a political hit piece that’s been rejected by credible news outlets for more than a year. Even the so-called “witnesses” refuse to go on the record. And the specific accusation itself is absurd and incomprehensible. To claim this interaction occurred in a crowded ballroom with more than 500 people present — and Charles table was in the front row? It defies common sense.

First, Ricketts and Pillen went after Charles' late wife, Judy. Then, they secretly launched and funded a dark money group to attack Charles. Now, they have taken their lies to the liberal media. The liberal website that published this garbage story is a sham news site funded by some of the largest liberal donors in the nation. Of course, they’d be willing to publish any rumor that Pete Ricketts and Jim Pillen push their way, regardless of the truth.

Our legal team is taking every possible action to defend Charles’ honor and reputation and hold those involved in the libelous smear campaign accountable.”

Herbster Campaign Manager Ellen Keast

CALLED INTO QUESTION

Herbster also cast doubt on Slama’s accusations questioning — if the events happened as she described — why she would invite him to her private wedding in the Dominican Republic two years after such an incident.

Slama later responded on Twitter to Herbster and former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub — who was quoted in a report as saying “I’d like to ask her what she was wearing” — with a photo of a dress, noting “This dress is what I was wearing when I was sexually assaulted.”

Slama talked more about the Twitter exchange during her appearance on KFAB.

“It’s stuff like that that keeps women from coming forward,” she said. ”I replied with a photo of the exact dress — the same one I’m wearing in the studio. It is insane to see an elected official like Hal Daub get up and make those comments.”

Thursday evening, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert issued a statement about the allegations against Herbster, saying she was “disturbed” by Daub’s response — and his support of the gubernatorial candidate. Stothert said both men, who she notes have been previously supportive of her, should be “embarrassed by their conduct.”

“The allegations by eight women against Charles Herbster are deeply troubling. I am also disturbed by the response of Hal Daub in supporting Mr. Herbster and further demeaning Senator Julie Slama.

If the allegations of sexual assault are true, they are actions that disqualify Mr. Herbster from serving as governor of Nebraska.

Though both men have been supporters of mine, I have zero tolerance for such behavior. Both men should be embarrassed by their conduct.”

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert

A SHOW OF SOLIDARITY

Thursday morning, all the women serving in the Nebraska Legislature issued a joint statement applauding the victims accusing Herbster of sexual misconduct for making their allegations public.

“We commend the brave women who have stepped forward to tell the truth about what they endured at the hands of Charles Herbster, including our friend and colleague, Senator Julie Slama. Sexual assault is despicable and damaging. This is not a question of politics — it is an issue of character and basic human decency. Charles Herbster’s behavior is completely unacceptable for anyone, especially someone seeking a public office of authority and trust. Herbster’s actions as outlined by the Nebraska Examiner render him unfit to serve.”

State Sens. Joni Albrecht, Carol Blood, Machaela Cavanaugh, Jen Day, Wendy DeBoer, Suzanne Geist, Megan Hunt, Lou Ann Linehan, Patty Pansing-Brooks, Rita Sanders, Julie Slama, Lynne Walz, Anna Wishart

Slama had talked about her experience on the Unicameral floor in February, tweeting at the time that getting on the mic that day was “one of the tougher things I’ve done in office.”

Slama tweeted an additional separate statement just before noon Thursday about that incident, saying that she “prayed I would never have to relive this trauma”:

“Today’s Nebraska Examiner report about Charles Herbster sexually assaulting me in 2019, when I was 22 years old, is true.

I indirectly referenced the assault in a February 2022 floor speed in the Legislature and prayed I would never have to relieve this trauma. When the Nebraska Examiner contacted me about a witness account of my assault and the seven other women who shared their stories, I was not going to deny the truth.

I am not seeking media attention or any other gain, I simply was not going to lie and say it did not occur. I would request my family’s privacy be respected at this difficult time.”

State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling

POLITICAL RESPONSE

Ricketts and Pillen both issued statements Thursday before the Herbster campaign’s accusatory statements. The governor condemned Herbster’s actions and commended the victims for their courage:

“This is beyond horrible. Charles W. Herbster should beg forgiveness of the women he has preyed upon and seek treatment. Sexual assault is criminal behavior and should disqualify anyone from elected leadership. I encourage my fellow Nebraskans to respect, support, and stand with these survivors, who had the courage to tell the truth about what happened to them. These brave women have Susanne’s and my full support.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Pillen issued a statement Thursday afternoon, painting Herbster as an unqualified leader:

“All Nebraskans are called to be examples to our families, and Nebraska leaders are called to be examples to our families, communities, and the state of Nebraska. Sexually assaulting women should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to serve as a leader. Suzanne and I are praying for the women targeted by Charles W. Herbster.”

Jim Pillen

Brett Lindstrom, also on the upcoming Republican primary ballot for governor, said that “as a husband and father of two young daughters, this is personal.”

Fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Theresa Thibodeau called the allegations “morally repugnant” and applauded those who came forward:

“The allegations outlined against Charles Herbster are morally repugnant and in stark contrast to the principles of basic human decency. I applaud the courageous women who came forward to share their experiences and advocate for those who do not feel they have a voice. All leaders, both in the public and private sector, are obligated to promote an environment where victims of sexual assault feel they can speak out without threats of violence or intimidation. Sexual assault remains the most underreported crime for a reason. I unequivocally support Senator Julie Slama and the seven brave young women who shared their stories. I pray that these women receive the justice and healing that they deserve.”

Theresa Thibodeau

In her response to the Examiner article, Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb said in a statement that the allegations were reflective of the Republican Party:

“Reprehensible behavior seems to have become commonplace in the Republican Party. Nebraska needs a governor like Carol Blood who will work to better the lives of hard-working Nebraksans. Herbster is trying to use his fortune to buy the governor’s job. Pillen is using Gov. Ricketts millions to try to buy the governor’s job. The real choice for change and values that reflect Nebraskans is Carol Blood.”

Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party chairwoman

Nebraska’s primary election is May 10.

Copyright 2022 WOWT. All rights reserved.

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