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Sen. Durbin staffer Kathleen Rooney fired for writing a too-revealing book

Kathleen Rooney (Courtesy of Counterpoint Press)

There's a reason people get nervous around writers: You never know what might end up in their books.

Kathleen Rooney, a staffer for Sen. Dick Durbin, was fired earlier this month after the release of her latest book, "For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs." The autobiographical essays include three chapters about working in a Senate office: insider gossip, staff secrets and a complicated flirtation between the author and her boss, Durbin's state director in Illinois.

Rooney, 29, has always blended politics and writing. She started as a summer intern in the Democratic senator's Chicago office in 1999, worked two more summers, then returned full time as a Senate aide in 2007. Along the way, the GW grad published four other books: "Reading With Oprah," two collections of poetry and a memoir about working as an artist's model.

"One of the things I loved about my 11-year involvement with Senator Durbin's office was the way, right up until I was fired, that I was supported and encouraged in the mixing of those two pursuits," she told us Wednesday. The only rule: never to use Durbin's name to promote her writing.

The prose hit the fan after Joe Shoemaker, Durbin's spokesman, saw a short review of the essay collection last month in The Washington Post and bought the book.

(Courtesy of Counterpoint Press)

"She was a low-level staffer who wasn't paid very much," he told us. "She was trying to make a name for herself in literary circles. The office wasn't going to stand in her way in furthering her career as long as she was able to do her job for us." He knew about an upcoming novel, but said he had no idea about the essays.

Although no one was named, Shoemaker was disturbed that she had written about the office and especially concerned about the relationship between Rooney and her supervisor: "Once upon a time there was a girl in unrequitable (but not unrequited) love with her boss," she wrote. "He would place his hand at the base of her neck, or flick her earring, or twist a strand of her hair..."

"We were worried we had a state director who may have been harassing female employees," said Shoemaker. Durbin sent a team to Chicago to investigate; after interviewing female and male staffers, the team concluded there was no climate of harassment, just a charged dynamic between the author and her boss. She had no interest in filing a complaint, but the state director was transferred to a job where he could not supervise any employees.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

The probe also revealed that Rooney spent office time on her writing: taking notes, gathering material and rushing through her other duties to work on her books -- on the taxpayers' dime. She was asked to give a detailed account of her book earnings, and was found to have violated Senate Rule 37, which prohibits any Senate employee from personally profiting from her or his job. The rule was created to prevent lobbyists from bribing staffers, but any amount earned is forbidden. (Rooney was paid a $4,000 advance from her publisher.) Another concern: Unlike other Senate authors, Rooney did not seek official permission from Durbin's office or from the Senate Ethics Committee to write the book of essays.

"Personnel matters are always tough," Shoemaker said. "But I feel our office acted responsibly."

Rooney lost her job on Feb. 5, as first reported by Washington Wire. "They said, ultimately, I had used my position as Senate staffer for gain -- which, technically, I suppose is true. I think I got fired because the one essay concerned and embarrassed them and they wanted to get rid of me as quickly as possible."

She admits that she did research for her book during office hours, but that her job with Durbin was never a writer's stunt: "I worked very seriously and very hard." She said her colleagues appeared to be okay with her writing, and that she never realized she required a waiver, or she would have asked.

And -- if you even have to ask -- Rooney's upcoming novel will include fodder from the past few months. "Of course," she said.

By The Reliable Source  |  February 18, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
Categories:  Politics  
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The Nazi concentration camps have been replaced right here in America with Sen. Durbin's office and the guards who gassed the Jews have been replaced by Sen. Durbin's office managers.

Just using Dick Durbin's favorite metaphors.....

Posted by: johnfchick1 | February 18, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

johnf: Uhh, exaggerate much? You sound like a fool, belittling the Holocaust. You should be ashamed.

Frankly, it sounds like an open and shut case. Rooney must have known that writing about the office would elicit a reaction. She gave them no choice but to take those measures, including firing her. She should have exercised better judgment by leaving her day job out of her writing.

Posted by: Pupster | February 18, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

The first government employee ever fired. She should write a book. Didn't she realize that she was only allowed to write a book bashing Bush or chiding Cheney or ripping republicans?

Posted by: Cornell1984 | February 18, 2010 9:29 AM | Report abuse

When a person works for the government, permission is needed to engage in outside for profit activities. This woman is dispicable.

Posted by: truth1 | February 18, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

If you play with fire, you may get burned. Besides, she is connected to somebody otherwise she never would have been hired and retained. And, look at her other titles: she's pretty good at self-promotion all things considered.

Posted by: citizen625 | February 18, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Let's see . . .

Kathleen Rooney took a job in a United States' Senator's office and then spent her office time working on her personal project, taking notes and researching for her writing; purposefully flirting with a co-worker (was that "research", too?); failed to disclose a $4,000 advance from her publisher as required by Senate rules; and failed to seek permission from the Ethics Committee to write the book of essays, as also required by Senate rules . . .

and she thinks she was fired because she wrote potentially embarrassing things about a mid-level staffer? PUULLLEEZZEE spare me the Little Miss Innocent act.

She obviously went in there with an agenda to do some sort of expose, and all she got for it was a little bit of flirt time. (As an aside, what is there to "research" if writing a collection of first-person essays? I'm thinking she spent her time trolling the Senator's computer files trying to find something juicy to write about.)

I'm surprised the Reliable Source decided to write so admiringly about her. What a crock. She's an opportunist trying to promote a book - nothing more.

Posted by: pfallsgirl | February 18, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I don't get it.

She didn't ask for official permission but the office says they knew she was an author and knew she was writing a book.

And she wrote a book about her experiences about working in the Senate and was paid for it but that's done all the time, right?

So what's going on here? Were they surprised the book contained details regarding a possible office romance? So surprised they needed to fire her?

I think she nails it here:

"They said, ultimately, I had used my position as Senate staffer for gain -- which, technically, I suppose is true. I think I got fired because the one essay concerned and embarrassed them and they wanted to get rid of me as quickly as possible."

Sounds like typical Washington...

Posted by: ghokee | February 18, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

All that for a lousy $4K advance? I made more than that in advances when I was writing paperback romances!

Posted by: hlchappell | February 18, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. She had to know the rules and if she didn't shame on her.

Posted by: rlj1 | February 18, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Eh. This is basic "don't sh** where you eat" kind of stuff. And she's hoping to capitalize off it, but it just isn't that interesting.

Posted by: sarahabc | February 18, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

She needs a new publisher...

Posted by: ozpunk | February 18, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

"Senate Rule 37, which prohibits any Senate employee from personally profiting from her or his job. The rule was created to prevent lobbyists from bribing staffers"

SR 37 prohibits any Senate employee from personally profiting from their jobs? That's a joke!!! The Senators purpose in getting a Senate job IS TO PERSONALLY PROFIT FROM THEIR JOB---or else they wouldn't be seeking so many 'campaign donations'.

Lobbyists can only bribe the Senators, not the staffers?

Posted by: momof20yo | February 18, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

As one of Senator Dick's constituents, I can testify that Ms. Rooney probably wassn't working any less than the rest of Dick's crew.

Posted by: Petero1 | February 20, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

You chumps probably ought to read the book, or at least read the Publisher's Weekly blurb on the Amazon listing before you go throwing stones. It looks like the vast majority of this book IS NOT about Durbin's office, so I doubt she got the job looking for fodder for this book. And jeez, Truth1, not knowing about some arcane senate rule makes a person "despicable" in your book? You used to be a junior high hall monitor, didn't you?

Posted by: Peeve | February 20, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

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