GOP lawmaker investigating sexual harassment in Congress allegedly harassed woman on his staff

Rep. Patrick Meehan, who sat on the House Ethics Committee, used taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct case.

Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images
Credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

The New York Times on Saturday published a report detailing accusations of sexual misconduct by Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), a Republican lawmaker who was given a leadership role in combating sexual harassment allegations in Congress.

According to the report, Rep. Meehan used his taxpayer-funded congressional office fund to settle a misconduct case brought against him by a former staffer who alleges Meehan made unwanted advances towards her while she worked as an aide.

Several sources told the Times that Meehan’s longstanding interest in his aide’s personal life evolved into romantic desires and, ultimately, hostility once she entered into a relationship with another individual outside of Meehan’s office. Meehan allegedly wrote a handwritten letter professing his sexual interest in his staff member.

The woman was forced to leave her job and had difficulty restarting her career, ultimately moving abroad for a fresh start.

In recent months, several Congressmen have either resigned or announced their intention not to seek reelection in November after complaints of sexual predation by current and former staffers surfaced. Rep. Blake Farenthold reportedly used more than $80,000 in taxpayer money to reach a settlement with his former communications director in 2015, prompting some lawmakers to call for an end to publicly-funded sexual harassment settlements.

The allegations against Meehan underscore an important point about the deeply flawed process used by lawmakers to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct: There is no better place to be a sexual predator than the U.S. Congress.

The system currently in place puts undue burden on victims, like a 180-day statute of limitations and a mandatory 30-day “counseling” period that the victim must complete.

Nevertheless, with sexual harassment allegations dominating the news, Rep. Meehan embraced his position as one of Congress’s chief investigators. He has been very public about his role as a co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence.

“I’ve worked closely with the victims of sexual violence since my early days as a prosecutor, and I’ve worked extensively with the law enforcement personnel, health care providers, and victims’ services groups that are on the front lines of the fight against sexual assault every day,” said Meehan in a statement last year announcing the formation of the task force. “There’s more that we can do at the federal level to prevent sexual violence and aid the victims and those who support them.”


Update, 6:45 PM: In dueling statements to the New York Times, both Rep. Meehan and the attorney representing his alleged victim responded to the paper’s earlier report.

Through his congressional office, Meehan denied the allegations made by his former aide, but notably did not deny the report by the Times that he used public dollars to pay out a settlement.

“Throughout his career he has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism,” said Meehan’s office in a statement.

“Congressman Meehan would only act with advice of House Counsel and consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance. Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately.”

His office also asked that the confidentiality requirements currently barring either party from discussing any settlement be lifted, thereby granting the public access to the findings of an internal investigation.

That proposition was forcefully rejected by an attorney representing Meehan’s former aide.

“In a desperate effort to preserve his career, Rep. Meehan has now asked my client to waive confidentiality so he can deny well-grounded allegations knowing full well that his former staffer prizes her privacy above all else,” the statement reads. “We will not allow our client to be victimized twice by this man.”

Hours after the Times first published its report, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that he had removed Meehan from the House Ethics Committee, which will now instead launch an investigation into the allegations made against him.