Report: Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle claim

Farenthold hasn’t paid back $84K settlement
Blake Farenthold

GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold settled a sexual harassment complaint brought by an aide with taxpayer money in 2014, according a new report published Friday — making him the first lawmaker known publicly to have used a fund to pay a sexual harassment settlement.

Politico reported Friday that a female staffer sued the Texas Republican in December 2014 for allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. The report said she settled with his office for $84,000.

The Office of Compliance, in response to a letter from House Administration Chair Gregg Harper, R-Mississippi, disclosed information about settlement money paid out since 2013, revealing that one sexual harassment settlement had been paid out since 2013 for $84,000.

Farenthold issued a statement to reporters, including CNN, saying he could not confirm nor deny the settlement.

“While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” he said in the statement.

He later referenced a statement that was released at the time of the settlement, which said, “Defendant disagrees strongly with the Plaintiff’s allegations in the Complaint, and Congressman Farenthold adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing.”

The news on Farenthold’s settlement comes amid a wave of sexual harassment allegations engulfing Capitol Hill, where Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California is working with Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York to change Congress’ system of handling sexual harassment and assault allegations — a process that can take months to investigate and remains confidential.

The former staffer to Farenthold claimed in the lawsuit that another staffer had told her Farenthold had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. When she complained about the remarks, the former staffer said, Farenthold fired her. She then filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Washington, but the case was dropped when they reached a settlement.

The House Committee on Ethics released a statement on Farenthold in 2015, saying it had received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics on the Farenthold complaint.

According to the statement, the Office of Congressional Ethics suggested it be dismissed and the House Committee on Ethics hadn’t, at the time, completed its review.

The Office of Compliance is not able to confirm or deny whether the complaint was against a member or staffer due to confidentiality.

On Friday morning, Farenthold attended a conference meeting where House Republicans listened to a lengthy presentation from Harper about the process for reporting allegations of sexual harassment and efforts to reform the secretive system, according to a senior House GOP source.

Harper told members that his panel had discovered one case so far since 2013 involving sexual harassment settled by the Office of Compliance with taxpayer funds.

A separate Republican source at the meeting told CNN, “No lawmaker’s names were given today at conference regarding the one sexual harassment settlement mentioned. Chairman Harper was excruciatingly clear that the name could not be released due to confidentiality agreements.”