Rep. Patrick Meehan, R- Pa., acknowledged Tuesday that he told an aide of his that she was “a soul mate,” but denied that his actions were considered harassment.
The married Republican congressman, who said he intends to run for reelection, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he “developed an affection” for his younger aide, but never pursued a romantic relationship with her.
However, Meehan, 62, admitted he reacted “selfishly” when he found out the longtime aide was in a serious relationship with another man. The congressman said that he lashed out at the aide in his office, which he attributed to a tense period around House votes on health care legislation.
“Sometimes I have the tendency to lash out to others on the staff … and you go hardest on the ones that you care the most about,” Meehan told the newspaper.
Meehan, according to The Inquirer, said he felt “invited” to express his feelings to the woman, and invited her out for ice cream. The two hugged, “maybe longer that night than needed to be,” Meehan said.
He handwrote the seven-year aide a letter that night, which The Inquirer published, wishing her well and thanking God “for putting you into my life and for all that we have seen and experienced and genuinely shared together.”
The woman texted Meehan the next day thanking him “for your very kind words and for your friendship,” according to text messages that Meehan’s camp shared with reporters.
“I did not seek a relationship,” Meehan said. “What I did was try to communicate that I was struggling with the idea that I might if I ... wasn’t able to keep things in the proper perspective.”
The New York Times reported Saturday that the former aide filed a misconduct complaint last summer, and Meehan allegedly used thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to settle the complaint.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called for an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, and told Meehan he should repay the public money. A spokesperson for Ryan added the four-term congressman would step down from the committee.
Meehan’s office has declined to answer questions regarding how much taxpayer money was used in the settlement, but, following the report, his office said, “Throughout his career [Meehan] has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism.”
The accuser’s lawyer, Alexis Ronickher, has said the allegations are “well-grounded” and a “serious sexual harassment claim.” Ronickher also said Meehan demanded confidentiality to settle the complaint.
Meehan said he would repay the money — which he referred to as a “severance,” not a “settlement” — if the House Ethics Committee finds he harassed the former aide. He’s said he followed the advice of House lawyers and Ethics Committee guidance.
The revelation comes amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in the workplace. Four members of Congress either have resigned or said they won’t run again amid complaints from women about sexual misconduct.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.