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SALT LAKE CITY — An independent investigation has substantiated claims by a woman who, while working on the 2020 campaign to elect Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, said she experienced "sexual misconduct" by the campaign's manager, Austin Cox (no relation to the governor).
Cox and Henderson announced the results of the investigation, which they said concluded this week, in a joint statement posted by Cox on his personal Twitter account on Thursday.
"We're devastated to learn of this abuse of trust and condemn this kind of behavior in the strongest terms," the governor wrote.
We were devastated to learn of this abuse of trust and condemn this kind of behavior in the strongest terms. pic.twitter.com/VhO0EDL88R— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) October 7, 2021
Austin Cox did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but his attorneys issued a statement Friday saying they were "deeply disappointed" in Cox and Henderson's joint press release posted on Twitter.
"Twitter is a powerful forum for advancing political narratives, but it is not the truth," the statement from Paul Burke and Skye Lazaro, of Ray Quinney & Nebeker, said.
"The personal relationship in question was a long-term relationship between two young single adults. The relationship was ended by our client earlier this year. Our client unequivocally and emphatically denies any allegations to the contrary," Burke and Lazaro said.
"Our client has not had a fair opportunity to share his side of the story. We are confident that any truly fair and impartial investigation would fully vindicate our client from baseless allegations."
Cox and Henderson said "recently" the former campaign employee "revealed to us that she believed she was the victim of sexual misconduct by our 2020 campaign manager, Austin Cox (no relation)."
After the discussion with the former employee, "we placed Austin on administrative leave and engaged an outside firm to conduct an independent investigation," Cox and Henderson said.
"The investigation, which concluded this week, substantiated the women's claims and also found previously unreported hostile conduct towards select members of our team. Although the investigation found that there is cause for Austin's termination, he resigned from his position prior to its completion," their joint statement said.
Cox, in his own prepared statement, said he was "devastated to learn of this violation of trust and deeply saddened by the pain it has caused."
"I have apologized to the victim of this misconduct and other campaign staffers who experienced this harmful work environment," the governor said. "I take full responsibility for the failure of the campaign's policies and procedures to prevent this from happening. The lt. governor and I condemn this behavior in the strongest terms and will not tolerate any form of sexual misconduct. We will do everything possible to make sure this never happens again."
Henderson also shared the statement on Twitter, calling their former campaign staffer a "brave woman" who "brought her experiences to light despite tremendous risk and personal hardship."
"It took incredible courage for her to speak up," Henderson said. "We hope that any other victim of sexual or workplace misconduct knows that they have advocates and allies in us."
This brave woman brought her experiences to light despite tremendous risk and personal hardship. It took incredible courage for her to speak up. We hope that any other victim of sexual or workplace misconduct knows that they have advocates and allies in us. https://t.co/DlCFtoAGuQ— Deidre Henderson (@DeidreHenderson) October 7, 2021
Cox and Henderson's joint statement did not include any details of the accusations against Austin Cox, when the woman brought the claims against him to the governor and lieutenant governor, or when the alleged sexual misconduct took place.
Asked about Austin Cox's attorney's statements criticizing Cox and Henderson's posts on Twitter, a campaign adviser told the Deseret News that Austin Cox "was given multiple opportunities to participate in the investigation and declined."
To Austin Cox's attorney's statement that "any truly fair and impartial investigation would fully vindicate" their client, Cox and Henderson's campaign adviser said the governor and lieutenant governor's statement from Thursday stands and speaks for itself.
The left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah applauded and thanked Cox and Henderson for their response to the situation.
"This is how you handle workplace harassment allegations," Better Utah tweeted. "People should be able to do their jobs without fear of harassment or hostile environments."
This is how you handle workplace harassment allegations.— Better Utah (@betterutah) October 7, 2021
People should be able to do their jobs without fear of harassment or hostile environments.
Thank you, Governor & Lt. Governor.#utpolhttps://t.co/jUD0lrN5Rk