Key Herbster aide defends her boss, questions remain
A key aide to Charles Herbster, one of three frontrunners in the GOP race for governor, is speaking out against accusations that her boss has sexually assaulted several women—at the same time part of her account appears to differ from a previous News Channel Nebraska report.
In a statement released by Herbster's campaign, Michelle Keithley—Herbster's Executive Assistant—says its "unimaginable to me" that anyone would accuse Herbster of any inappropriate behavior.
Just over two weeks ago, State Sen. Julie Slama accused Herbster of putting his hand up her dress at the 2019 Elephant Remembers dinner. Now another woman, Elizabeth Todsen who had been unnamed, tells Nebraska Examiner she too was at the dinner and that Herbster's "hand went to my butt. It was a grab. At that point, I tried to push away, but I couldn’t."
Today Keithley, who says she was also at the event, counters the Slama and Todsen accounts: "There was rarely an occasion that evening when I wasn’t with Charles," says Keithley. "At that event our table was in the very front center in full view of the more than 500 attendees and anyone on the stage. Charles was never alone during the evening. It would have been impossible for Charles to have done what he has been accused of without it creating a noticeable stir and public scene. I certainly would have been aware that something had happened.”
At the same time Keithley also supports Herbster's contention that later that year Slama met with Herbster and others at Herbster's riverfront condo in Omaha.
During a recent Zoom news conference Herbster said, “I certainly didn’t know there was a problem with Julie Slama. We attended events together. She requested, in 2019, meetings here in my condo in Omaha, Nebraska. And we actually did meet. She was campaigning (for Legislature against fellow Republican Janet Palmtag). I had Gov. Dave Heineman here, former Gov. Heineman, who was on my board of directors for five years.”
Today Keithley added, "I was in attendance at the September 20, 2019 meetings with Senator Julie Slama and others that took place at Charles’s downtown Omaha condo. Also attending meetings that day as part of the Herbster team were former Governor Dave Heineman and Carlos Castillo. On that day, Senator Slama came to the condo for her pre-planned meeting with Charles unaccompanied.”
Following Herbster's statement News Channel Nebraska contacted Heineman who didn't say there weren't any meetings but did say this: "I did not attend any meeting involving Senator Slama and Charles W. Herbster. And the reason I didn’t is I was supporting Janet Palmtag. And so, I did not attend any of those meetings.”
In addition, Castillo, who worked for both Herbster and Heineman, neither confirms nor denies the Herbster/Keithley accounts: “I haven't worked for Charles for nearly two years," Castillo tells NCN. "I have not talked to him since leaving and I am in no way affiliated with his campaign. I could have attended the 2019 meeting you referenced, but I don't have any recollection one way or another.”
Keithley ends her statement with this: “The accusations made against Charles are so far out of character that the credibility must be questioned. While I have only been with Charles for five years, I work with people who have known Charles for several decades. Nobody has ever raised any concerns about Charles’s behavior around women. I would know.”
Herbster denies all the accusations and insists that Gov. Pete Ricketts, who is backing NU Regent Jim Pillen for governor, is orchestrating a “political hit-piece.”
Late this afternoon Slama's attorney issued the following comment: "Senator Slama will not litigate Charles Herbster’s misstatements and misrepresentations through press statements," said Dave Lopez. "The legal process will require Mr. Herbster, and others connected to him, including Ms. Keithley, to answer questions and make statements under penalty of perjury. In fact, Mr. Herbster is legally required to appear and testify this Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. at the Johnson County Courthouse. We look forward to taking his testimony under oath at that time."
According to recent polls, the May 10th primary is up for grabs, a statistical dead heat between Herbster, Pillen and State Sen. Brett Lindstrom that also finds 24 percent of those surveyed still undecided.