Scott Brown: more complaints surface over behavior in Samoa
It was a balmy day when the US ambassador to New Zealand, Scott Brown, touched down in Apia, the capital of the South Pacific island nation of Samoa.
Brown had flown in with his wife, Gail Huff, in July for a party to celebrate 50 years of the peace corps in the country. It was his inaugural visit to Samoa – of which he is also the official US representative – and one he was looking forward to.
The party was intended as the climax of the ambassador’s trip, a night of celebration. People were in high spirits. They were offered beer, wine, champagne and local hors d’oeuvres, including slices of taro topped with palusami, spring rolls and chicken skewers.
But something went wrong that night. As one attendee describes it, something was “off” and the party is now at the centre of a US state department investigation over the ambassador’s conduct toward two women.
Brown admitted on Wednesday that he was being investigated by officials who had flown to Wellington to interview him.
Brown said he wanted to address “innuendo and rumour” and claimed he had been admonished for praising the appearance of several of the party’s attendees. He also said he had remarked that the waiting staff were good enough to earn hundreds of dollars in the US.
Brown responded to the allegations by saying that even though two people may speak English, they sometimes do not understand each other.
Over the past two months, however, the Guardianhas spoken to various witnesses who attended the party and who claim the behaviour of the ambassador – the first appointed by the US president, Donald Trump – was worse than he has admitted.
It is understood that two complaints under investigation by the US state department against Brown originally came from two female peace corps volunteers who were at the event, and who served food and drink to the guests as a way to flip the cultural norm of Samoans serving westerners.
There are also other complaints that the ambassador’s behaviour was “shocking”, “culturally insensitive”, “rude” and “undiplomatic”. The Guardian contacted more than a dozen people who attended the party and spoke to a number who said he had made them feel uncomfortable.
One woman told the Guardian that Brown allegedly stared at her body when she was introduced to him. She did not want to be identified, but said: “The first time I met him, he looked at my chest immediately.” She alleged that another female colleague had a similar experience.
“I felt immediately uncomfortable and it didn’t feel right,” she said.
A male former peace corps volunteer described a strained atmosphere developing at the party as the ambassador shouted at guests to be quiet and listen to him. “It was very culturally insensitive,” he said. “He just did multiple things in 15 seconds that really put me off, and looking around [I] saw it put off a lot of other people as well.
“At least twice, maybe three times, he was telling everybody: ‘Stop talking, be quiet, listen to me.’”
Another former peace corps volunteer called Brown’s speech “really pompous and sort of shocking”. The man, who again did not want to be named, said he approached Brown after his speech, hoping to gauge the man representing his country.
He described their exchange as candid, and claimed Brown became aggressive when he mentioned he was disappointed by Trump’s actions following his inauguration. Brown angrily told him to get over it, he said.
“A lot of people were really upset by the tone of his speech that night,” said another attendee. “He was rudely shouting everyone down. After the speech I was so put off I didn’t approach him. I wanted no personal contact with him.”
Brown was a contributor at Fox News, where he faced allegations of sexual harassment from a former Fox employee in a lawsuit against the company. Brown dismissed them as a fabrication. In 2016 he became one of the first national political figures to endorse Trump on the eve of the New Hampshire primary.