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Three people speak on the record to confirm allegations of groping by Charles Herbster

(Beatriz Reyna/News 2)
Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 2:22 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) -Two men and a woman on Monday put their names behind what they said they either saw directly or were told immediately afterward about Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster groping young women at political events.

All three said they were upset by Herbster’s denials of the behavior. They said they were also upset by how Herbster and some of his political allies have treated State Sen. Julie Slama since the Nebraska Examiner last week reported the allegations against Herbster.

Slama, a Republican who represents District 1 in southeast Nebraska, spoke to the Examiner on the record for last week’s article to confirm that Herbster had reached up her dress during a 2019 political event and touched her without permission.

Two of the three who came forward Monday had previously spoken to the Examiner to corroborate accounts of women who had made allegations. The third person commented after the initial article was published.

In addition to Slama, six other women told the Examiner that Herbster had groped them on their buttocks, outside of their clothes, during public events. A seventh woman said Herbster once cornered her in a private setting and forcibly kissed her. All seven women spoke on the condition that their names be withheld. The Nebraska Examiner grants anonymity to those alleging sexual assault, unless they consent to be named.

The Examiner corroborated six of the women’s accounts with at least one witness to each incident. The other two women told at least one person about the incident on the same day it occurred. Each witness and confidant confirmed the women’s descriptions of what happened.

Herbster has vehemently denied the women’s allegations, calling them “lies.” On Thursday, in response to a question from conservative KFAB talk radio host Ian Swanson, Herbster said he had done nothing in the past five years that might be misinterpreted as groping a woman without her consent.

“I think that’s ridiculous,” Edward Boone said Monday of Herbster’s denials, “because I’ve seen him first-hand grope a woman.”

Boone, a combat veteran and current Nebraska legislative aide, said he came forward Monday because he didn’t want Slama to have to stand alone. He said he was sitting with friends and acquaintances at the Douglas County Republican Party’s annual Elephant Remembers fundraising dinner in 2019 when Herbster walked up to their table and introduced himself.

Boone, confirming what the Examiner reported last week, said Herbster shook the hands of young men at the table. When young women at the table reached out for a handshake, Herbster pulled them into a hug, Boone said.

“While introducing himself to one of the women, he started to hug her,” Boone said. “He then moved his hands down to her buttocks and deliberately and aggressively grabbed them.”

Boone said he asked the woman afterward if she wanted him to intervene with Herbster. She said no. She “wanted to put this traumatic experience behind her,” Boone said. She still fears retribution from Herbster because of his wealth and power, he said.

Boone’s decision to go public was one of “faith” and “ethics,” he said, not politics. He said he didn’t originally want his name used out of concern it might identify the woman involved. He said he doesn’t know who he’s going to vote for this May, nor should it matter. What does matter, he said, is that Herbster should be held accountable.

He called Slama brave for speaking out publicly. He said he understands that he and other witnesses who are speaking out will make themselves targets of criticism.

“The truth must come out about this despicable behavior of Charles Herbster,” Boone said.

Alex DeGarmo, a legislative staffer who worked on Gov. Pete Ricketts’ 2018 campaign, said he came forward Monday to support Slama, not out of any political motivation. DeGarmo also attended the 2019 dinner. He said Slama told him at the event that Herbster had just reached up her dress and touched her as she was walking past him. DeGarmo said Slama was “shaken and disturbed.”

“The allegations made by Senator Julie Slama against Charles Herbster are undeniably true,” DeGarmo said. “I was told, in confidence immediately after it occurred, about the interactions that took place.”

He said he admired Slama’s “bravery for coming forward.”

Kelsey McDonald said that watching Slama step forward to say what happened to her was a key reason McDonald decided to come forward by name about what she saw at Herbster’s kickoff event for his gubernatorial bid. McDonald, who is now attending college out of state, had been a staffer and volunteer in local GOP politics. She worked on the campaigns of U.S. Reps. Don Bacon and Jeff Fortenberry.

McDonald went to the April 2021 kickoff event in Fremont with two of her friends. All were excited to see Herbster and his national campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. They were fans.

Neither of her friends had been involved in political campaigns, she said, and thought it would be fun to attend. Then they went to take a picture of themselves with Herbster.

“After the picture, we were walking away,” McDonald said. “My friend says, ‘Oh, my God. Charles Herbster grabbed my (slang for buttocks).’”

A Herbster staffer heard the woman say that, and her comments were relayed to at least two other campaign workers that day, former staffers told the Examiner.

McDonald said she was once groped by a man — not Herbster — and said grabbing someone like that is “disrespectful.”

“As a woman, I don’t want to be praised for just being a woman,” she said. “But it feels disrespectful when you’re trying to do something serious, and to know that’s how you’re looked at, instead of as an individual or someone who has something to offer.

“You feel just more objectified.”

She said she understands the reluctance of other women to come forward. She said she admires Slama for doing so and is trying to follow her example.

Herbster is prominent in the political world, has a lot of money and can affect a person’s life in a lot of ways, she said. “It’s tough,” she said. “It’s scary.”

“She’s being very selfless,” McDonald said of Slama. “She had the most to lose, and probably the most damage could be done to her reputation as to anybody else’s.”

Victims of sexual violence can contact the Nebraska Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to access a statewide network of service providers online, or by phone at (402) 476-6256.

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