Pennsylvania congressman denies sexually harassing aide
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Rep. Patrick Meehan is the latest lawmaker facing an ethics investigation after he purportedly used taxpayer dollars to finance a settlement with an aide who alleged the four-term Pennsylvania Republican sexually harassed her and became hostile when she turned him down.
Meehan allegedly made romantic overtures to the female aide, though Meehan told The New York Times that the aide “specifically invited” his intimate communications. When she rejected the congressman’s overtures, the aide alleged the congressman became hostile, The Times reported.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Patrick Meehan may have engaged in sexual harassment and misused official resources, namely his Member’s Representational Allowance,” the House Ethics Committee announced in a statement Monday, adding Meehan submitted a written request to the Committee that it review these allegations.
Meehan, a married father of three, a former federal prosecutor and the second-ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee, rode the Tea Party wave of the 2010 midterm elections to the Capitol.
“This was a person who specifically invited communication with me so that she would be able to have the ability to be there for me,” Meehan told The New York Times. Meehan told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he thought of the aide as “a soul mate” and shared a hand-written letter he sent her after she told Meehan she was in a serious relationship with another man.
“You are and have been a complete partner to me and you have brought me much happiness,” Meehan wrote in the letter. “It is a very, very lucky man who might get to be your partner for more of your life. If this is indeed the ‘one,’ I hope you will find great contentment. I pray that you might be blessed with children that you will raise so wonderfully in your image.”
Meehan also told the Inquirer he had deep “affection” for the aide but claims he told her he wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship. He acknowledged that one time a hug lasted “maybe longer that night than needed to be.”
After news of his troubles became public, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled Meehan off the ethics committee, which is investigating numerous cases of sexual misconduct. Texas Republican Rep. John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, quickly filled the vacancy on the panel.
The Office of Compliance, which serves as the legislative branch’s workplace administration office, paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money to settle 264 harassment complaints since 1997, when the Congressional Accountability Act took effect.
The New York Times reported that Meehan paid “thousands of dollars” to the aide in 2017 from an official account given to lawmakers to run their congressional offices. Congress is now considering sweeping changes to the law, including disclosing the identity of any member who pays a settlement, prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to settle a complaint, as well as clarifying that a member may be a victim of harassment from another member.
The New York Times said Meehan disputed any payment to the aide was a settlement – calling it “a severance agreement with a valued employee who I felt a great deal of not only respect for, but concern for, and believed that that was a way to reward the work that she had done for me.”
Meehan also denied the allegations through a statement posted on his website from his communications director, John Elizandro.
“Congressman Meehan denies the allegations. Throughout his career he has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism,” Elizandro wrote.
“In this case, the employee, represented by counsel, made certain assertions of inappropriate behavior which were investigated. With respect to resolving any allegation made against the office, Congressman Meehan would only act with advice of House Counsel and consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance. Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately.”
Meehan also instructed the congressional attorneys handling his case to ask the complainant’s counsel to release all parties from the confidentiality requirements of the pact.
Alexis Ronickher, an attorney who is representing the alleged victim, told ABC News that her client requests privacy and does not wish to waive the confidentiality components of the settlement.
“My client has repeatedly requested that Mr. Meehan cease discussing this matter publicly and honor his legal obligation to keep this matter confidential, but he refuses to do so,” Ronickher said. “Her privacy is important to her, so she is not willing to discuss the fact of this case in the media. She intends, however, to fully cooperate with the House Ethics Committee investigation.”
The House Ethics Committee is currently investigation allegations of sexual misconduct against Reps. Ruben Kihuen D-Nev., Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, Meehan. Reps. Trent Franks, John Conyers, Patrick Murphy and Sen. Al Franken all resigned late last year amid various reports of sexual misconduct.
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