NBC 10 I-Team: Timeline suggests Mattiello knew of sexual harassment allegations for years

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (left) was quick to sideline Rep. Cale Keable, a Democrat from Burrillville, after an allegation of sexual harassment surfaced by Rep. Katherine Kazarian, a Democrat from East Providence, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (WJAR)

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello was quick to sideline a colleague after an allegation of sexual harassment surfaced by another female state lawmaker Monday.

Rep. Cale Keable, a Democrat from Burrillville, was stripped -- at least temporarily -- of his chairmanship on the judiciary committee by the speaker, “pending clarity of the issue.”

The move by the Speaker came hours after Keable’s employer, the Providence law firm of Patridge, Snow and Hahn placed him on administrative leave.

“Our firm takes allegations of sexual harassment very seriously and we believe it is in the best interest of our partners, employees and clients that Rep. Keable remain on administrative leave until these allegations are clarified,” said Howard Merten, managing partner of the firm.

In a March 2018 email leaked to WPRI, state Rep. Katherine Kazarian, a Democrat from East Providence, reportedly told Mattiello she had been sexually harassed by Keable for years and acknowledged she had talked about it with the speaker beforehand.

Keable’s attorney, Kathleen Hagerty, said her client ended a platonic friendship with Kazarian three years ago.

“As there are no legal proceedings of any kind pending involving Representative Keable relating to this allegation, it seems that it will be left to the public to decide if a statement of this kind, without any proof or evidence of truth, can be sufficient to achieve its obvious political objective,” said Hagarty.

The National Organization of Women’s Rhode Island chapter has condemned the allegations, while the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence said the Speaker “has allowed a culture of harassment and intimidation against female lawmakers to flourish.”

But what did Mattiello know and when did he know it?

In October 2017, the Speaker sat down with NBC 10 I-Team reporter Parker Gavigan and political reporter Bill Rappleye to discuss swirling allegations of sexual harassment at the Rhode Island State House, launched at first, by Rep. Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat from Narragansett and South Kingstown. The conversation was off the record and will remain as such, but it was clear at that time, more than a year ago, that Mattiello was aware of complaints against Keable.

A year earlier, in November 2016, just days after winning re-election by a slim margin, Mattiello held a meeting with seven aides, in the Speaker’s conference room. According to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting, the talk that day centered around picking a majority leader. The pros and cons of Joseph Shekarchi, Keable and other candidates were thrown around, said a source.

Many in attendance expressed concern at the time about choosing Keable, related to allegations of text messages sent by Keable to Kazarian, according to a source. Mattiello did not make a decision that day, but later tapped Shekarchi for majority leader.

Mattiello has not answered questions directly, but through a statement, said when he learned of the falling out between the two reps, he asked them to avoid each other, and removed Keable from the judiciary committee when Kazarian testified at a hearing.

“I find it suspicious that one week before an election, reports are surfacing about events which date back many years involving these representatives. This is clearly another attempt by the ultra-progressives to impact this election cycle,” said Mattiello.

Some of those progressive Democrats, and others have said they would not support Mattiello for Speaker if he wins re-election against republican Steven Frias next Tuesday. Criticism of Mattiello has grown in recent months.

“It’s no secret that he’s probably the most powerful person in Rhode Island, and there is a sense of vulnerability that hadn’t been there for a while,” said Valerie Endress, a communication professor at Rhode Island College.

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