Gov. Spencer Cox’s campaign manager resigns amid sexual misconduct investigation

The inquiry substantiated the misconduct claim and uncovered other “hostile conduct” toward Cox’s campaign staff.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Lt. Gov Spencer Cox, hods a press conference at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, July 7, 2020, following his win in the Republican primary race for Utah governor over former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday reported that an independent investigation substantiated sexual misconduct allegations against his former campaign manager, who resigned before the inquiry was complete.

The investigation of the governor’s 2020 campaign manager Austin Cox also revealed “previously unreported hostile conduct” toward other campaign team members, according to a joint statement posted on Twitter by Gov. Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson.

“I was devastated to learn of this violation of trust and deeply saddened by the pain it has caused,” said Gov. Cox, whose statement noted that Austin Cox is “no relation” to him. “I take full responsibility for the failure of the campaign’s policies and procedures to prevent this from happening.”

The governor and Henderson said that when a former campaign employee brought the allegations forward, they put Austin Cox on administrative leave and asked an outside firm to conduct an investigation.

The review concluded this week and substantiated the woman’s allegations, the Twitter post stated. The investigation found reason to fire Austin Cox, but he already had left the campaign by the time it ended.

On Friday, Austin Cox’s attorneys released a statement saying their client hadn’t been given the chance to share his version of events.

“The personal relationship in question was a long-term relationship between two young single adults,” attorneys of Paul C. Burke and Skye Lazaro said in the statement. “The relationship was ended by our client earlier this year. Our client unequivocally and emphatically denies any allegations to the contrary.”

The attorneys also expressed disappointment at the statement by Gov. Cox and Henderson and said they “are confident that any truly fair and impartial investigation would fully vindicate our client from baseless allegations.”

Gov. Cox said he had apologized to the campaign employee who reported the misconduct and to other staffers who experienced a “harmful work environment.” He said he condemned “this behavior in the strongest terms” and said he would work to ensure that his campaign team was free of sexual misconduct going forward.

“This brave woman brought her experiences to light despite tremendous risk and personal hardship,” Henderson said. “It took incredible courage for her to speak up. We hope that any other victim of sexual or workplace misconduct knows that they have advocates and allies in us.”

A Twitter user asked Gov. Cox if he had helped the woman pay for therapy or medical appointments resulting from the alleged misconduct, and he responded that his team had “made many resources available and offered to pay for any prior visits.”

Fresh off of his primary victory over Jon Huntsman last year, then-Lt. Gov. Cox credited Austin Cox with proving wrong those who said a “novice, 25-year-old campaign manager” couldn’t help lead a winning ticket. He later appointed Austin Cox to serve on his transition team as he prepared to take office.

Austin Cox is registered with the state as a lobbyist for several groups, including Zions Bank and ViacomCBS.

Gov. Cox’s announcement of the investigation and its conclusion garnered praise from some on social media.

“This is how you handle workplace harassment allegations,” wrote Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive group that advocates for government transparency. “People should be able to do their jobs without fear of harassment or hostile environments.”

Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, who ran against Spencer Cox in the gubernatorial GOP primary, expressed her appreciation for the governor’s “incredible support of this victim.”

“I am so impressed with her courage in coming forward,” Winder Newton tweeted in response to Gov. Cox. “And I also stand with her.”