One of the latest bipartisan scandals to come to the fore in recent weeks has been the discovery of an obscure congressional “Office of Compliance” account that members of Congress can and have used to pay legal settlements, such as for sexual harassment claims. In essence, more than a few of the people we send to Washington DC to represent us have been secretly using our money to hide evidence that they have no business representing us.
Now we know one of the most recent lawmakers to take advantage of this account: Rep. Blake Farenthold, Republican of Texas (yes, that Blake Farenthold).
Politico reports that Farenthold spent a whopping $84,000 of the people’s money to settle a 2014 lawsuit brought against him by his former communications director, Lauren Greene.
It’s not pretty. Greene alleges that Farenthold and his top aide Bob Haueter sexually harassed her, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, and created a hostile work environment. Specifically:
“Farenthold regularly drank to excess, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on ‘red head patrol to keep him out of trouble,’” Greene’s complaint alleged. “On one occasion, prior to February 2014, during a staff meeting at which [Greene] was in attendance, Farenthold disclosed that a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome.’”
The complaint added: “On June 10, 2014, in response to Haueter’s complaint about [Greene’s] shirt … which Haueter claimed was transparent and showed [Greene’s] nipples, Farenthold told [another woman staffer] that [Greene] could show her nipples whenever she wanted to,” Greene’s complaint asserted.
Greene said Farenthold avoided meeting one-on-one with her, and she also felt awkward about meeting with Farenthold.
When Greene complained to Farenthold directly in June 2014 about her problems with Haueter, she was “marginalized and undermined” by the Texas Republican, and then fired several weeks later, Greene asserted.
In response to these revelations, Farenthold said he “can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question” (while simultaneously maintaining that he absolutely supports “more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress.”
For what it’s worth, the Office of Congressional Ethics investigated Greene’s accusations, and informed the House Ethics Committee that it found no “substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against [ex-staffer Lauren Greene], or engaged in an effort to intimidate, take reprisal against, or discriminate against [Greene] for opposing such treatment, in violation of House rules and federal law.”
Politico also obtained a copy of a joint statement from Farenthold and Greene which was drafted at the time of the settlement but never released. In it, the Congressman “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing,” but notes that both parties entered a strict confidentiality agreement about the claims — and, most remarkably, it attempts to spin the settlement as having saved taxpayer’s money by not going through costly litigation.
Earlier today, House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-MS) told Republican lawmakers that the $84,000 settlement was the only instance in the past five years of a House office using the Congressional account to settle a sexual harassment case.
Do you think Rep. Farenthold is innocent? Even if he is, do you think defending himself and keeping the scandal out of the public eye was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars? Sound off in the comments below.