Graham Kelly has finally escaped the eye of the scandalous storm that swirled around his boss, then-Congresswoman Katie Hill — but he didn’t emerge unscathed.
He’s been slandered as Hill’s lover, his promising political career is over, and he frequently thinks of suicide, he told The Post in his first in-depth interview since the sex scandal exploded in October.
“There were countless times I was standing on the metro station where I was like, ‘Hey, what if I jumped in front of the train right now,” Kelly confessed.
“My apartment is on the third floor and I walk on the balcony and I just like stare out off the deck [and think] maybe I should jump. I have those thoughts all the damn time.”
After naked photos of Hill hit the internet, she confessed to sleeping with a female campaign staffer as part of a “throuple” with her now-estranged husband, and eventually resigned from Congress. But she has always characterized herself as a victim, destroyed by “revenge porn,” a double sexual standard for women, and political enemies.
But Kelly, 31, insists he is the only innocent victim in the sordid affair.
“My promising career went up in smoke over something that was out of my control,” he said. “I think since I’m like this 30-year-old bro guy, nobody gave a f–k about me and it was easier to cast me aside.”
Kelly joined Hill’s staff in 2017 after the aspiring California pol found his information on an Emily’s List resume database. After two phone calls, he packed his bags and flew across the country from a state senate office job in Brooklyn to join Hill’s congressional campaign as finance director. As Hill emerged as a media darling, Kelly found his work on the campaign featured in fawning coverage from Vice and HBO.
“Katie and I were attached at the hip,” Kelly said. When Hill won her race in 2018, unseating GOP incumbent Steve Knight, Kelly went with the then-31-year-old lawmaker to Washington, taking on a new role as legislative director.
The train went off the rails, however, after the conservative blog RedState, published photographs and text messages in October 2019 showing Hill had been involved in a three-way relationship with her estranged husband, Kenny Heslep, and a 24-year-old campaign staffer, Morgan Desjardins. Lewd photos of Hill with Desjardins were later published by the Daily Mail.
Hill blasted the release of photos, but ultimately admitted to an inappropriate relationship and apologized.
Kelly soon became a focus of national headlines when Heslep accused Hill that same month in a now-deleted Facebook post of having another affair “with her (male) finance director for the past year at least.” It would have been a violation of recently enacted House rules forbidding lawmakers from having sexual relationships with staff.
Kelly flatly denies he was ever Hill’s lover.
“There was never a romantic relationship between us,” he told The Post, saying he believes Heslep confused him for Playboy reporter Alex Thomas — who began a relationship with Hill in June 2019.
“I met Alex Thomas the night they met,” Kelly said, recalling a widely attended D.C function. “I knew about him. I knew that they were seeing each other the entire time. I think [Heslep] figured out that Katie had a D.C. boyfriend and started grasping at straws for who it might be.
“Katie was trying to keep that she was dating Alex a secret, so I couldn’t tell anybody. It was tearing me up. Katie did have a f–king boyfriend but it’s not me. I wanted to scream this from the rooftops.”
But Kelly, who had a warm relationship with Hill, kept quiet.
Though Hill also vehemently denied the allegation at the time, the House Ethics Committee announced on Oct 23 it would investigate the alleged relationship with an underling. On Nov. 3, Hill resigned.
“I am leaving now because of a double standard. I am leaving because I no longer want to be used as a bargaining chip,” She railed in a combative Oct. 31 resignation speech from the House floor. “I am leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse.”
Ironically, she was applying a double standard to Me Too laws meant to protect subordinates from sexual harassment.
“Even if it was true. I am the victim. And she is the supervisor. If the genders were reversed it would be insane,” Kelly said.
Kelly remembers the moment she told her staff it was over.
“The explanation we were given was that basically Republican operatives had told them they had a huge database or cloud folder of lots of pictures, lots of screenshots and they were going to make her life hell if she didn’t resign,” he said.
Just days after Hill announced her plans to quit, California radio host Joe Messina posted online that he had “received over 700 images, pictures, texts, and notes on the escapades of one Katie Hill, both before and after her election.”
As chaos engulfed his boss, Kelly said he was abandoned.
“She got totally sequestered by her legal team and our comms consultant and I still had to show up to work every day and act like everything was normal,” he said.
They gave him no legal counsel until after the resignation, and “no advice on what to say or do even though my name was in all the articles too,” he said. “They left me blowing in the wind for two weeks and nobody ever even asked me what I wanted to see happen.”
Hill’s dramatic undoing also blew up Kelly’s ambitions. As key advisor to a young lawmaker hailed as a future leader of the Democratic Party and a personal favorite of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he shared the same potential career trajectory as his boss.
“The speaker looks at Katie like a younger version of herself,” Rep. Adam Schiff told The San Diego Union-Tribune in April 2019.
As the House began mulling impeachment charges against President Donald Trump, Hill was expected to play a big role and was being prepped by House leaders to sell the Dems’ case during regular TV appearances.
Kelly, a handsome Tar Heel with a southern twang, worked for a number of politicians before Hill, mostly local North Carolina Democrats. From January to June of 2017, he did a stint as a community relations specialist for Brooklyn state Sen. Jesse Hamilton. While in New York, he lived in a Williamsburg studio and had a passionate fling with a girl he met at Coachella, whom he declined to name.
“I liked New York a lot. My ex, she’s quite the socialite. She’s fashion industry adjacent. She worked on Fifth Ave and always knew where the cool parties were,” Kelly recalled. “She had a beautiful rent-controlled place on the water.”
After Hill left D.C. there was little on the agenda for Kelly in Washington. He was still a House employee and still expected to show up for work, but the office was taken over by the Clerk of the House. Rules forbid staffers of departed lawmakers from participating in most of their normal day-to-day functions in government. People who saw Kelly in the Capitol hallways in late December said he looked “like a ghost.”
“A lot of the time I just spent job hunting. But people don’t respond to your emails anymore. People don’t text you back anymore,” Kelly said, noting that Hill still has not been replaced.
“I could still be spinning around in my chair refreshing Twitter if I wanted to.”
Kelly considered legal action against Heslep, but ultimately decided against it, saying he didn’t have the money for a libel attorney.
Facing near complete ostracization from fellow House staffers, Kelly decided to call it quits about six weeks ago. After one last party with friends in D.C., he drove down to Durham, N.C., to ride out COVID-19 at home.
He has been there ever since, alone, single and brooding.
“I thought I didn’t care,” said Kelly, recalling the ordeal. “But looking back on it, it definitely affected my mental health because here I am six months later talking to you.”
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