Ethics panel: More review needed in Hastings case

The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday it needs more time to consider sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., but released a report in which the alleged victim detailed a pattern of sexually suggestive remarks and unwanted hugs.

The staff member who brought the allegations, Winsome Packer, works for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe a government agency based in Vienna, Austria and formerly headed by Hastings.

Packer also has filed a civil lawsuit against the commission, its staff director and Hastings. Also known as the Helsinki Commission, the agency takes up issues such as human rights and peaceful settlement of disputes.

Hastings, a 10-term lawmaker, denied the allegations in a statement Wednesday — as he has done previously.

"As I have said repeatedly since this matter first came to my attention, I unequivocally deny the allegations made by Ms. Packer." He said the allegations "are completely false. I never had a romantic or sexual interest in her, nor did I ever express or otherwise suggest that I had any such interest."

Hastings also sharply criticized the report by the Office of Congressional Ethics — which does preliminary work for the ethics committee. He said, "The OCE also completely failed to assess Ms. Packer's motivations. Ms. Packer has a self-published book entitled, A Personal Agenda, which she has stated 'seeks to provoke its readers by examining . sexual harassment in Congress and supposedly was 'inspired by her own experiences.'" Hastings accused the congressional ethics office of failing to explore this angle.

In the Office of Congressional Ethics report, Packer described Hastings as constantly hugging her against her will, pressing his cheek against hers and suggesting he go to her hotel room or she go to his room.

In one email to other staff members, Packer said, "He came over to where I was seated at the table and briefly placed his cheek against mine. I do not want Mr. Hastings to hug me because I am uncomfortable with it and I insist at this point that it is not repeated."

Hastings told the investigators that he hugged Packer "every time she said he did and that he hugs many different people."

Packer told the OCE that at 4 a.m. one day in Kazakhstan, as she was on the way to her hotel from the airport, an embassy representative with her received a call from Hastings saying he wanted to see Packer. When she arrived, Packer said Hastings was there with a drink in his hand and told Packer that he wanted to help advance her career.

Packer, according to the report, "responded that she worked hard to establish herself as a professional and she did not want a personal relationship with him. Representative Hastings responded by telling her that nobody would treat her less than professionally if she had a relationship with him."

During a trip to Lisbon, the report said, Hastings "started to 'rant'" to Packer about his interest in her."

"Representative Hastings told her that she was not a 'sport'" and that he had come to her 'as a man comes to a woman' and was upset that (Packer) had complained about his behavior towards her," the report said. It added that Hastings "then asked (Packer) to accompany him to his hotel room and also asked for her room number." She declined the requests, the report said.

Under its rules, the House Ethics Committee was obligated to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report on Wednesday. The OCE is composed of a board of non-legislators, and refers its findings to the ethics committee for further work.

Only the ethics committee, composed of five members from each party, can render judgment on whether a House member broke the rules and should be punished.

Hastings is a former federal judge who was charged with bribery, but was acquitted in 1983. However, the House voted to impeach him and the Senate convicted him in the late 1980s.