Gov. Cox, other Utah Republicans denounce Salt Lake County GOP chair, volunteer

Posted at 4:37 PM, Mar 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-28 00:55:55-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Prominent Utah Republicans, including the governor and lieutenant governor, are speaking out against a letter that the Salt Lake County Republican Party chairman emailed to delegates.

In the email, obtained by FOX 13, Chairman Scott Miller wrote that he and one of his volunteers were being "accused of foul actions" that he learned about from a Salt Lake Tribune reporter.

The Tribune* published an article Saturday afternoon that detailed allegations against Dave Robinson, the county GOP's unofficial communications director.

In the article, several women accuse Robinson of sexism and sexual harassment.

While the allegations aren't directly against Miller, the Tribune says he was "dismissive about the allegations" when he was interviewed.

Aimee Winder Newton, a Republican County Council member and former Utah gubernatorial candidate, said Miller has "allowed Robinson to run amok and enable his bad behavior."

In his email Friday, Miller called the accusations "salacious and false." He criticized each of the seven women, who are also members of the Republican party, for things he claims they've done or said in interactions with him.

He also criticized the accusers of taking their allegations to the Tribune rather than to him and the party.

"Why did they not bring their allegations to the County or State Executive Committees? Why have they not requested or supported a 3rd party investigation as we have?" he wrote. "Is this an attempt to disrupt my efforts to become the Utah GOP Chairman?"

FOX 13 reporter Spencer Joseph spoke with Erin Preston, a former candidate for county recorder, about her interactions with Robinson. Watch the interview here:

Extended interview with Erin Preston

On Saturday, Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson issued a statement in response to Miller's email:

“We are deeply offended by the recent reprehensible communications to Salt Lake County delegates. Let us be clear: This type of behavior should never happen and when it does we will not tolerate it, ignore it, or explain it away. It is unacceptable. The Republican Party needs women in our policymaking and discussions. Sincere apologies are owed to the women who have been victimized and we admire their courage and strength in coming forward. That is not an easy thing to do.”

In a tweet Saturday afternoon, state Rep. Candice B. Pierucci called Miller's email a "nasty, false attack" and expressed displeasure at his use of the county party's official logo and email list for his letter. She wrote that Miller should be censured and "held accountable."

Later that day, she strongly condemned Robinson and Miller in another tweet.

"This is sexual harassment and bullying. The comments made to these women are absolutely disgusting and degrading," she wrote. "Robinson should be expelled from ever holding a position in the party and the chair removed for not taking this seriously."

Pierucci later posted a joint statement from herself and seven other women in the Utah legislature (Reps. Kera Birkeland, Christine Watkins, Susan Pulsipher, Marsha Judkins, Karianne Lisonbee, Melissa Ballard and Cheryl Acton).

"As Republican female legislators, we condemn bullying, harassment, sexism, and the misuse of party resources," the statement read in part. "These actions have no place within our party."

Henderson also posted a response following the article's release.

"I’m heartbroken to learn that women who stepped up to run for political office faced harassment and discrimination from people who were supposed to be helping them. It’s never ok to normalize, enable, or dismiss this kind of behavior," the lieutenant governor wrote in a tweet, accompanied by the hashtag #istandwithmysisters.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown, who recently announced he will not run for a second term and whose position Miller is campaigning for, also issued a statement in which he called the allegations against Robinson and Miller "appalling."

Brown wrote that Miller's Friday email appeared to be "an attempt to shield both he and Robinson from forthcoming allegations of bullying, intimidation, and harassment that they knew would soon be made public."

"Ironically, his statement proceeded to bully, intimidate, and harass individual women, by name, not only substantiating their allegations, but perhaps providing a public example of what they may have experienced privately," Brown's statement read.

It continued: To each of these women, know that the Utah Republican Party stands for your right to engage in the political arena free of bullying, intimidation, or harassment. As your Chairman, I personally stand for everyone’s right to speak openly about your experiences, and to do so free from fear of retribution. I also repudiate, in the strongest of terms, Miller’s assertion that what these women experienced is simply 'what goes on in a normal campaign.' It is not."

Shortly after the Tribune's article was published, Miller issued a statement responding to the criticism he received.

"As the father of 5 daughters, I applaud these women for coming forward and I have encouraged any accusers to come forward. I take these allegations seriously. I want to be very clear, I do not and will not tolerate sexual harassment, sexual assault, etc.," he wrote in part. "When the allegation occurred, I took immediate action."

Miller says he removed all volunteers from their positions who were not directly involved in preparations for an upcoming convention -- including Robinson. He also said he opened a two-week window for "the offended" to come forward to him and the executive committee. There were very few specifics provided, he wrote.

He also said he would be drafting a harassment policy for the party that would provide "a clear path for an investigation, protecting the accusers, and providing a fair process for both those alleging and those accused."

He asked the members of the party, including Cox, to give feedback on it by the end of Monday, and he plans to publish the policy Tuesday.

Once the new policy is adopted, Miller said he will invite accusers to submit their allegations, complaints and evidence. Then, on Wednesday, he will give an outline for a third-party investigation.

"We need to get to the truth of these allegations once and for all," he wrote.

Scott Rosenbush, the vice chairman of the Salt Lake County Republican Party, issued a statement Saturday night:

"Members of the Salt Lake County Republican Party Executive Committee are aware of two emails sent by Chairman Scott Miller yesterday and today. The Executive Committee was not aware of either email or their contents before they were sent. We will be holding an Executive Committee meeting as soon as possible to address this matter."

*Editor's note: FOX 13 and The Salt Lake Tribune are content-sharing partners.