Republican operatives were behind the nude photos that brought down former Congresswoman Katie Hill

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U.S. Congresswoman Katie Hill speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rising Democratic star Katie Hill resigned from her seat in Congress this week after several tabloid and conservative websites published nude photographs of her, and allegations that she had inappropriate relationships with two staffers. Hill admits that she had a consensual sexual relationship with a campaign staffer, but she also says the leak of private photos and texts was part of a revenge scheme by her estranged husband, Kenneth Heslep.

Reporting from the Los Angeles Times shows that there may have been a concerted effort to bring Hill down by Republican operatives so they could win back the coveted seat she flipped last year when she beat Republican Steve Knight.

Matt Pearce, a reporter at the LA Times who broke the story, says that Heslep and Hill’s lives went in very different directions a few years after they married in 2010.

“Katie Hill, as you may know, in 2018 was part of this big freshman class that helped retake the House of Representatives for the Democrats. And her husband, Kathy Heslep, was a stay at home husband. He didn't have a job,” Pearce tell KCRW. “Katie Hill says he was abusive. He filed for divorce this summer and over the last couple of months, we found out that he had been reaching out to local journalists up in Santa Clarita asking if there was any interest in an interview and what he called the whole story. And that was shortly before these nude photos and text messages leaked.”

Former Steve Knight campaign advisor Joe Messina received an anonymous zip drive with hundreds of Hill’s images and text messages, and published some of the allegations on his blog. But first, he reached out to the National Republican Congressional Committee to see if they knew about the information.

“We don’t know what they told him,” Pearce says.

Another former Knight advisor, Jennifer Van Laar, published an article about Hill on right wind site RedState.com that included the graphic images a day later. Van Laar neglected to include her ties to the Knight campaign, and the fact that she had agreed to work for a candidate running to unseat Hill. Pearce says Van Laar could face some legal repercussions for publishing the photos.

“The bigger issue here is that California has so-called revenge porn statute that criminalizes the malicious spreading of naked pictures of people to hurt them. That could put the person who originally spread the photos at some legal risk, and it's a little bit of a question, I think, for what could potentially happen to other political figures who might have spread of them as well.”

Katie Hill gave her final speech on the House floor on October 31, saying “I’m leaving because I didn’t want to be peddled by papers and blogs and websites used by shameless operatives for the dirtiest gutter politics that I’ve ever seen, and the right-wing media to drive clicks and expand their audience by distributing intimate photos of me, taken without my knowledge, let alone my consent, for the sexual entertainment of millions.”

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Host:
Larry Perel

Producer:
Cerise Castle