The Shady Side Of Kamala Harris

"Are you a politician or does lying just run in your family?" quipped Fried Green Tomatoes author Fannie Flagg. And yes, politics is a shady business. The art of the possible means compromise — sometimes down to your roots. Expecting a virtuous pol is kind of like asking for a hitman without too much blood on their hands. Do you want somebody good or not!?

But will the fourth estate hold a Biden-Harris administration to account? The amount of giggling in Kamala Harris interviews thus far won't win any Pulitzers. But it does speak to her skill playing the political-media two-step, where proximity to power means sources — and big stories that buoy bigger careers. Everybody wins. Except maybe the public. 

Harris does have her critics, though. Many shouted about hypocrisy over Harris' willingness to run alongside Biden after her debate-stage attack on his chummy past with segregationists, despite her somewhat confusing simultaneous declaration, "I do not believe you are a racist." The Los Angeles Times even served some of her own medicine — noting a "tough on crime" past that disproportionately affected African American men. And though she was rated American's most liberal Senator, The New York Times questioned her "progressive prosecutor" bona fides, detailing how she "fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions." They argue, "she's not" who she claims to be. To that end, we're chasing down the shady side of the first female vice president in U.S. history. 

Kamala Harris' rise was 'ruthless'

Kamala Harris graduated from University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1989. The future vice president took her first job as a deputy district attorney in Oakland, Calif. in 1990, serving until 1998, according to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

Education and entry-level jobs are all well and good, but Harris' career may have started in earnest when she met the powerful California "machine" politician and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, "a notorious womanizer," in 1994, according to SF Weekly. Harris was 29, Brown 60 and married — but supposedly separated. He was everything in bay-area power politics and the two started a romantic affair. Brown was also allegedly corrupt, his office under investigation by the FBI. Harris eventually dumped her aged lover, but when she ran for District Attorney in 2003, Brown put his weight behind her anyway. Harris won, but "critics — including her opponents — were bemoaning cronyism at City Hall," per Politico

Once in office, Harris threw her former lover under the bus, calling the allegedly corrupt Brown an "albatross hanging around [her] neck," via SF Weekly. The ambitious young politician declared her benefactor all but dead: "His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing." Politico has thusly branded Harris "ruthless." In 2020, the perhaps jilted Brown gave Harris some odd advice via his piece for the San Francisco Chronicle: "say no to [the] vice presidency." 

Did Kamala Harris plagiarize MLK?

Kamala Harris has been spinning a seemingly apocryphal childhood yarn for years that goes something like this: When she was a toddler in Oakland, Calif., she was separated from her parents at a march. Young Kamala was found, but fussing, and according to Harris' retelling via Elle, her mother asked her, "'Baby what do you want? What do you need?' And I just looked at her and I said, 'Fweedom.'" Harris told versions of this tale in her 2010 book Smart on Crime as well as her 2019 book The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, according to the New York Post. She giggled her way through the anecdote on late-night TV with Jimmy Fallon as well. 

However, observers have pointed out a remarkable similarity to a story that Martin Luther King Jr. told Playboy during the civil rights era. "I will never forget a moment in Birmingham when a white policeman accosted a little Negro girl, seven or eight years old, who was walking in a demonstration with her mother," King told the mag in 1965 (via Alex Haley). "'What do you want?' the policeman asked her gruffly, and the little girl looked at him straight in the eye and answered, 'Fee-dom.'"

While the similarities in the stories can't be ignored, online debunking site Snopes remains undecided on wither it's outright plagiarism, citing how "[Harris] claims to have no direct recollection of the moment," but rather, has simply repeated a story told to her by her mother. 

There's no way Kamala Harris smoked weed to Tupac and Snoop Dogg in college

Politicians love to pretend to be cooler than they are. Kamala Harris's democratic successors did it, too. Bill Clinton made his first big splash on the national scene in a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses, blowing out a saxophone solo to "Heartbreak Hotel" on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992.

But Clinton also claimed he didn't inhale. During Harris' run for executive privilege in 2019, the public's view of this stinky little weed had changed dramatically and the then-aspiring POTUS was endorsing legalization. "I did inhale. It was a long time ago ... It was a joint," she admitted, stone sober, amidst one of her signature fits of inexplicable laughter, on The Breakfast Club. Harris claimed her experimentation was in college, and when asked who she listened to while high, she responded, "Definitely Snoop. Tupac for sure." 

Well, not for sure. According to Newsweek, critics quickly cited how Harris graduated Howard University in 1986, five years before either rapper released a debut album, while defenders claimed Harris was just confused by cross-talk, and was actually answering a more general question about artists she likes. Harris' opponent in the Democratic primaries, Tulsi Gabbard, had a different, and perhaps more important grievance with the segment, ripping Harris for "put[ting] over 1500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laugh[ing] about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana." 

Fellow marijuana users had no friend in Kamala Harris

During Kamala Harris' failed bid for the Democratic nomination in 2019, in which her much-hyped campaign collapsed before the first caucus, she offered up an ambitious "blueprint to overhaul the criminal justice system,” according to Politico. Her sweeping plan called to end federal mandatory minimum prison sentences, do away with both the death penalty and solitary confinement, and for "phasing out for-profit prisons and cash bail."

But Harris' top-of-the-ticket campaign may have imploded, in part, due to her own previous stances on criminal justice. According to The Week, Harris "sometimes" embraced her tough-on-crime record, but perhaps in light of the ascendant Black Lives Matter movement, with its "defund the police" refrain, the former top cop, "seemed ashamed of her own tough record as DA and AG, preferring not to talk about it or to talk around her reputation for harshness." 

Part of the criminal justice system Harris and activists now want changed is one that imprisons minorities at a disproportionate rate for minor drug offenses, according to Human Rights Watch. But as attorney general of California, "Harris oversaw 1,900 convictions for pot offenses," according to Mercury News. She also "fought to keep people in prison even after they were proved innocent," according to Vox, and further defended California's death penalty all while refusing to look into "certain police shootings." This past "haunts" Harris, at least politically, according to the Los Angeles Times. After all, no one put her in prison for dabbling with marijuana.

An innocent man stayed behind bars because of Kamala Harris

In 1998, a fight broke out in a parking lot in California's San Fernando Valley. Cops thought they saw a man, Daniel Larsen, ditch a knife under a car. Larsen protested his innocence, but also had two serious prior felonies, and under California's harsh three-strikes policy, was sentenced to 28 years to life, according to The Atlantic.

The Innocence Project eventually took up Larsen's case. Turns out Larsen's trial lawyer bungled it badly; his most egregious error being that he never had the knife processed for fingerprints. Sworn testimony from a retired cop also later showed Larsen never had the knife — another man did, William Hewitt. Hewitt felt so badly someone else was blamed for his crime he sold his motorcycle to pay for Larsen's bail. Larsen's attorney was later disbarred for his incompetence and a judge ordered the state to retry Larsen or let him go.

Harris could've done just that. Instead, her office fought to keep Larsen locked up — on technical grounds — because he hadn't filed his petition quickly enough. Larsen spent two more years in prison, battling Harris' office. Harris' team eventually lost its bid to keep this innocent man behind bars, via appeals court, but that didn't stop her from blocking all financial compensation due to Larsen for the wrongful conviction. In 2019, Larsen, who spent over a decade in prison for a crime he didn't commit, never saw a dime, and, "now lives in a small garage and relies on welfare payments."

Kamala Harris got parents jailed for their kids skipping school

Speaking of innocence. Imagine being a poor family struggling with bills and truant kids in the tougher corners of sunny but expensive California. Then imagine Attorney General Kamala Harris tossing you in jail on top of it. That happened. Then she lied about doing it.

"I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime, so I decided I was going to start prosecuting parents for truancy," Harris said in a 2010 speech. She doubled down in 2011 during her inaugural address as California DA, "So, we are putting parents on notice. If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law."

Harris admits she personally prosecuted 20 families under this policy, according to The Washington Post, but has repeatedly denied anyone went to jail. But that's not exactly true. While no one in San Francisco went inside while Harris was district attorney, she pushed for her anti-truancy policy to go statewide — which it did in 2011. The law called for up to a $2000 fine and a year in prison for parents of kids who missed more than 10% of school days with no excuse. Dozens of families were charged under this law, and though records aren't thorough, at least 7 parents went to jail under Harris' initiative. Her "careful" claims to the contrary were given "two Pinocchios" by The Washington Post.

Did Kamala Harris whine about her Vogue cover?

Maybe glossy fashion magazines aren't what they used to be, but still, being on the cover of Vogue seems cool, right? That didn't stop the KHive from turning a mediocre photoshoot into a new media meltdown.

Harris graced the cover of the mag's February 2021 edition in a decidedly casual look — black pants, a blazer, and her signature low-top Converse All-Stars. Vogue has faced criticism in recent years for its lack of black artists, so the mag had a black photographer "known for his unstudied aesthetic" shoot the cover, according to The New York Times. The "unflattering" photo might seem fine to the untrained eye, but it caused an "uproar" on social media for being "determinedly unfancy," to a "disrespectful" degree. 

But it wasn't just white knights on Twitter who hated the work. Even though Harris was wearing her own clothes, "Vogue was seen as acting in bad faith." This simply wasn't what Harris was expecting, reported New York Magazines' Yashar Ali. Another photo, for the digital version, featuring Harris in a powder blue suit, was apparently what team Harris and Vogue editor Anna Wintour had agreed upon. Unfortunately, the pic the VP-elect didn't elect, had already gone to print, and this mystifyingly elitist nontroversy was locked in. Or as one Twitter user put it, "I don't care about this but I'm gonna ask anyway. What is wrong with this picture?"

Kamala Harris lied about Honest Abe

There is a deviously effective technique in the debate world called the Gish Gallop. It's when you spew so many falsehoods in such rapid succession that your interlocutor is put in the difficult position of either rebutting you endlessly, or actually getting to their own point.

In Kamala Harris' 2020 Vice Presidential debate with Mike Pence, a question came on the topic of delaying Supreme Court justice nominations until after an election. Democrats favored this at the time, so Harris invented an "unsubstantiated" reasoning, according to (ie, nonexistent), and ironically attributed it to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln faced a similar nomination close to his own election, claimed Harris, "But Honest Abe said it's not the right thing to do. The American people deserve to make the decision about who will be the next president of the United States." Historians told the outlet that there's speculation to Lincoln's motive, but that probably wasn't it, and "there is no record of him making a quote that squares with the one Harris described."

Harris has had other deviations from the truth. Politifact keeps a running tally. She claimed to have "sued Exxon Mobil:" false. She fabricated a stat that "the majority of women are minimum wage workers:" false. She accused the Trump administration of "'raiding money' from military service member pensions to pay for the border wall:'" false. She accused then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of saying birth control methods could be considered "'abortion-inducing drugs:'" false. The list goes on.