Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox announced via Twitter his former campaign manager, Austin Cox, resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
In the Twitter post, Cox revealed that a former campaign employee informed them of questionable behavior by Austin Cox. An independent investigation substantiated the allegations, but Austin Cox, no relation to the governor, had resigned by the time it had concluded.
Cox’s Twitter statement suggests he believes the matter is finished. That’s probably the correct call for a public figure, according to Marty Carpenter, political communications expert and host of the “On Message” program.
Carpenter says the paucity of details about the incident can work to Cox’s advantage.
“Your position should be airtight even if it shows you are responsible for the issue to some degree. You also want to rip the bandaid and get your entire story out at once and as early as possible. He who speaks first sets the narrative,” Carpenter said. “If the crisis is contained to a single incident, it is often beneficial to the organization to simply give its side of the story and then sit tight to wait for the news cycle to move on.”
That’s certainly what’s happening here as the governor has gone radio-silent on the issue, and has effectively insulated himself from media scrutiny on the issue.
Cox’s spokespeople cannot answer questions about the situation since it is political in nature and not part of Cox’s duties as governor, referring all questions to the campaign. But Austin Cox was the sole remaining employee of the campaign and is gone now. Essentially, Gov. Cox is acting as his own spokesperson on the issue, and access to him is controlled by the media operation in his office. The whole thing is an ouroboros of information blockage.
Despite that, there are still some important questions that the governor should have to answer about the situation.
When did Cox become aware of the allegations against his former campaign manager?
This is important as the two were still seemingly joined at the hip until recently.
In fact, the governor pushed hard to help Austin Cox win election as the Utah GOP vice chair ahead of their state convention in May. A letter from Cox, Lt. Gov. Henderson and other top Republicans endorsing several candidates in that election, including Austin Cox for vice chair, backfired as delegates dealt a defeat to the governor-approved slate of leadership candidates.
The first indications of a split between the two came in late September when Austin Cox was notably absent at the governor’s golf fundraiser. Several of those in attendance told The Tribune that when they asked why the campaign manager was not there, they were told he was “taking a leave of absence.”
Who conducted the investigation into the allegations against Austin Cox? Was it internal or did it come from outside the campaign?
The process for looking into the allegations raises some important questions. Who was questioned as part of the investigation? And, equally important, who wasn’t?
How long did the investigation take? It stands to reason the investigation was already underway at the time of Cox’s golf fundraiser on Sept. 28. The governor posted the news on social media on Oct. 7. That’s at least 10 days. Was it longer, and by how much? How thorough was the investigation, given that time frame?
Unfortunately, that information is likely not forthcoming.
Will the report about the investigation be made public?
The answer is, probably not.
A source close to the governor, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said it was their understanding that the victim did not want their name released and did not want the details of their experience made public.
The Twitter statement also said the investigation turned up “previously unreported hostile conduct” toward other members of the Cox campaign team.
The report, even redacted, would help shed light on how this behavior was able to go undetected and unreported for nearly a year after the election.
What about Austin Cox?
The governor’s social media statement said Austin Cox was put on “administrative leave” when the allegations were made and he quit before the report was finished.
Austin Cox claimed last week, through a lawyer, that the allegations by the governor were “baseless.” He also said that “the relationship in question was a long-term relationship between two young single adults” which was ended earlier this year.
Was the governor’s former campaign manager given a chance to read the findings of the investigation? Does he even know what, specifically, he’s being accused of?
A source close to Austin Cox reached out to the Tribune through an intermediary Tuesday to deliver one-word answers to those questions.
“No, and no” The Tribune was told.