GOP Rep. Farenthold to retire from House amid harassment accusations
Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold will not seek re-election following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and other abusive behavior.
Farenthold’s decision to retire came around the same time the four-term congressman met with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers and House Speaker Paul Ryan late Wednesday.
“I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress,” Ryan said Thursday during a press conference.
Farenthold admitted to CNN that he called members of his staff “f—ktards” but said he used the term “in jest, not in anger,” but added “in hindsight, I admit it wasn’t appropriate.”
News that Farenthold won’t seek re-election comes after his former communications director described in detail the congressman’s alleged abusive behavior which ranged from making sexually graphic jokes to verbally abusing aides.
Michael Rekola said things got so bad that he was forced to seek psychological counseling and medical treatment.
Rekola told CNN that right before his 2015 wedding, Farenthold told him he should have his fiancee perform oral sex because "it will be the last time."
Farenthold also joked about whether Rekola’s now-wife could wear white on her wedding day – a reference to premarital sexual experiences.
Rekola’s allegations follow other harassment claims made by Farenthold’s former aide Lauren Greene.
She sued him in 2014, alleging a hostile work environment, gender discrimination and retaliation. Among other things, Greene claimed Farenthold asked her for a threesome.
She sued him and was paid $84,000 from a public fund on behalf of Farenthold for a sexual harassment claim.
The House Ethics Committee said last week it would investigate Farenthold’s $84,000 payout.
Though Farenthold said he'd reimburse the Treasury Department, such payments have drawn public criticism from people saying lawmakers should use their own money for such settlements.
Other staffers have accused Farenthold of routinely commenting on the size of women’s breasts and making jokes about being on “redhead patrol” because he was attracted to women with red hair.
Last week, three lawmakers facing accusations of sexual harassment announced their resignations. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., have already left Congress while Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has said he will step aside soon.
Mike Bergsma, Republican county chairman in Farenthold's home county of Nueces, Texas, said Farenthold campaign manager Joseph Walter told him he will not seek re-election.
"I think it's a shame. He's my friend; I think he's been a good congressman. I wish he had been able to tell his side of the story and that this one issue wasn't making so much difference," Bergsma said.
"I don't think he had done anything that devastating, and the thing that's really hurting him is that it was public money," Bergsma said, referring to the use of Treasury money to pay the settlement. "And the way the law is structured, my understanding is, he didn't have much choice."
Farenthold, a sixth-generation Texan, is the eighth member of the Texas delegation to announce he will leave Congress.
U.S. Reps. Sam Johnson, Lamar Smith, Jeb Hensarling, Ted Poe, Gene Green and Joe Barton have announced their retirements this year. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is leaving his House seat to run for Senate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.