The fallout has begun after North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's campaign wrongly published the identities of several women in an ad meant to shame her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer.
Heitkamp's communications director confirmed Wednesday that the staffer responsible for collecting the names of sexual assault victims has been fired. Meanwhile, a group of women whose names were listed without their consent are threatening to sue over the debacle.
What are the details?
In a response to comments Cramer made about the #MeToo movement, the Heitkamp campaign placed full-page ads with an open letter to Cramer in several North Dakota newspapers on Sunday. The letter listed more than 120 signatories who were purportedly victims of sexual or domestic abuse. However, some of the victims did not grant permission for their names to be printed, and others said they weren't victims at all.
Heitkamp apologized for the ad through multiple outlets on Tuesday. Campaign communications director Julia Krieger confirmed to the Bismarck Tribune the next day that the staffer who was responsible for collecting the names had been fired. Krieger said the staffer's name would not be released.
More than a dozen of the misidentified women have reportedly organized to seek legal action against the Heitkamp campaign. The group issued at statement to CNN:
Heidi Heitkamp's political agenda has interfered with, or downright ruined, our lives. Survivors of sexual assault who had taken care to avoid the subject were suddenly bombarded by questions asking them to explain to their loved ones why their name appeared on this list. Women who have never been assaulted spent the day reassuring loved ones of their safety.
The full statement was posted by one of the victims, Megan Stoltz, on her Facebook page Tuesday, where she wrote, "Our privacy was violated this day, and we deserve closure. In order to receive the closure we need, we are searching for a lawyer who will take our case. We need our own voice. Together, the women listed on Heitkamp's advertisement are searching for competent legal refuge."
Jake Wilkins, communications director for the North Dakota Republican Party, told CNN, "This is just another example of Heidi Heitkamp exploiting whoever she can for political gain. With a campaign built on lies, misinformation, and manufactured controversy, it's no wonder Heitkamp is the most vulnerable senator in the country."
Polls show Heitkamp is trailing Cramer in the contentious fight for her Senate seat.