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By Sarah May on
 March 14, 2024

White House hit with claims of hostile work environment within president's advance team

Despite President Joe Biden's assurances that his administration would be one marked by a respectful, highly professional work environment for staffers, allegations of anything but have recently emerged from within the White House advance team, as Politico reports.

The group, charged with planning and facilitating the president's speeches and other public appearances, has been the subject of complaints about harassment, verbal abuse, and other hostile conduct emanating from key members, some of whom have tendered their resignations.

Controversy emerges

Amid mounting complaints about the toxic culture within the advance team, the White House Counsel's Office launched a probe of the situation, as the outlet noted.

Of particular focus were allegations leveled against former associate director of presidential advance Ian Mellul.

Though he resigned earlier this month, Mellul was accused of verbally harassing staffers and creating an overall environment of intimidation and fear.

As Politico noted, the fallout from reports of such conduct has the potential to negatively impact Biden's re-election campaign, given that the advance team is accustomed to making use of a vast network of volunteers across the country, and as rumors of the internal strife began to spread, growing numbers of experienced hands refused to lend a hand with recent presidential events.

Conflicting reports, stern denials

According to Fox News, there is a split of opinion at the White House as to the truth of the rumors about Mellul's actions, with some current staffers suggesting that such reports were gross exaggerations.

One staffer who spoke to Politico took issue with that characterization and said they “never once felt disrespected by Ryan or heard him raise his voice” and that the picture painted was “totally at odds with what I've actually lived through every day for over three years.”

Other staffers pointed a finger of blame at Ryan Montoya, head of the advance department, for allegedly failing to take action when presented with allegations against Mellul, suggesting that he would typically “just laugh it off and ignore it.”

Mellul himself vociferously denied claims that he customarily issued threats to staffers who made errors on the job and referred to them as “pieces of s**t” and “worthless.”

“That is simply not true,” he declared. “I love all of my colleagues; they are committed, skilled, and brilliant public servants. To anyone who felt otherwise at any time, I'm sorry and I want them to know that. It's been the honor of a lifetime working with this team, and I'm so proud of everything we've done together.”

Not the only one

Though White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates has said that “President Biden is deeply proud of his advance staff...,” it is not just Mellul and Montoya who have been accused of inappropriate or abusive workplace conduct in recent months.

As the New York Post notes, Anthony Bernal, a top aide to first lady Jill Biden, has also developed a reputation for bullying and sexually harassing colleagues for years, something one staffer described as "classic MeToo," but he is reportedly considered bulletproof and immune to firing due to his close friendship with the president's wife, who reportedly thinks of him as her “work husband.”

President Biden memorably told staff back in 2021, “I am not joking when I say this, if you are every working with me and I hear you treat another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise I will fire you on the spot,” but in light of the chaos that seems to have gripped the advance team and other key offices within the White House, that pledge now appears to have been little more than empty words.

Written By:
Sarah May

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