Speaking for the first time since announcing her decision to not run for re-election, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said she regrets the way she handled accusations against her former chief of staff.
"I am so sorry and I wish I could turn back the clock," Esty told NBC Connecticut political reporter Max Reiss.
On April 2, Esty announced she would not run for re-election amid criticism and pressure to resign after she admitted to keeping her former chief of staff on after he was accused of threatening another female staff member.
"I ran to serve, I did that in local office and if I tried to run for re-election, I think that would have become about winning and me and that's never what I wanted it to be about, and would have gotten in the way of actually trying to help people," Esty said.
On March 29, the congresswoman issued an apology for failing to protect the female employees who said Esty’s former chief of staff, Tony Baker, harassed them, including one woman who said she was punched in the back and received death threats.
Reports say Esty, a Democrat who represents Connecticut's 5th District, was informed that in 2016, Baker called Anna Kain, another office staff member with whom he had previously been in a relationship, more than 50 times before leaving a voicemail in which he threatened to kill her.
"I want to and I need to apologize, most importantly to Anna, to her family, her friends, to everyone who was hurt by the decisions I made and the system is," Esty said.
It took three months for the congresswoman from Cheshire to act, eventually signing a non-disclosure agreement, providing $5,000 in severance to Baker and assisting him in finding a job with the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise.
Baker was Esty's chief of staff from 2014 to 2016. His spokesman denied many of the allegations.
Some lawmakers, including members of Esty’s own party, called for her to resign.
"The accountability is really important and that's why I'm not running for re-election," Esty said. "That's the accountability, my ownership of the mistakes I made."
The congresswoman said because a resignation would trigger the need for a special election over the summer that she is worried about "depriving the folks in the district of a vote in Congress."
Esty provided a favorable recommendation for Baker with the advocacy group Sandy Hook Promise, despite her knowledge of the accusations against him. She said Tuesday that recommendation was a mistake.
"I regret that," Esty said. "My effort in agreeing to provide a reference for him was to try to get him out of Washington."
Esty said time will tell whether her credibility and legacy has been significantly tarnished.
"I want to try to be helpful again so nobody else has to go through that," Esty said. "I hope my example of the mistakes that I made and the problems the way the system was then and still is in Congress is something we can try to fix. That's what 'Me Too' has been about."