WASHINGTON – The House Ethics Committee expanded its investigation of Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas beyond its inquiry into sexual harassment allegations to determine whether he lied to the panel.
The panel also said Thursday it is reviewing whether Farenthold or someone acting on his behalf directed his congressional staff to work on his campaigns. House employees are free to work on campaign activities on their own time, but doing so at the direction of a lawmaker is an impermissible campaign subsidy.
Farenthold, who has announced he won't seek re-election to a fifth term, is already the subject of an investigation into whether he sexually harassed a former member of his staff and retaliated against her for complaining of discriminatory conduct. The accusations against Farenthold first surfaced in 2014, when a former aide sued him over sexually suggestive comments and behavior, charging that she'd been fired after she complained.
Farenthold, a seven-year House veteran, had said he'd engaged in no wrongdoing when he settled the case in 2015. But after congressional sources said he'd paid a $84,000 settlement using taxpayers' money, the House Ethics Committee said last week it would investigate him and public focus intensified, even though he said he'd reimburse the Treasury Department.
Farenthold had said he was "relieved" that the Ethics Committee would look further into the case. But in the following days, he announced he would not seek re-election after serving out his term. In that announcement, the Texas lawmaker denied the sexual harassment accusations, but he apologized for an office atmosphere he said included "destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional."
The Ethics panel also said Thursday it had created an investigative subcommittee to determine whether Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada engaged in sexual harassment. Kihuen was already the subject of an ethics investigation, but the subcommittee's formation is necessary for the most serious sanctions in ethics matters.
Kihuen, serving his first term, has also announced he won't seek re-election. He has denied the sexual harassment allegations and said he was committed to fully cooperating with the committee and looked forward to "clearing my name."
In a separate matter, the House Ethics Committee said it voted against forming an investigative subcommittee to review the arrest of Democratic Reps. Judy Chu of California and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois at a protest outside the Capitol. The two lawmakers paid a $50 fine and the committee decided to take no further action.