Hours after Rep. Anthony Weiner’s resignation became official, a sexual harassment case involving Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) resurfaced.
Gary Fields and Brody Mullins report for the Wall Street Journal that the independent Office of Congressional Ethics is now investigating a claim that Hastings sexually harassed a woman working on his staff.
Fields and Mullins write that the Office investigation was opened after conservative group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in March as the legal counsel for Republican staffer Winsome Packer. Packer, who served on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe–a group headed by the congressman–alleges that Hastings retaliated when Packer attempted to report the harassment, according to the paper. Judicial Watch has targeted Hastings in the past.
Accusations include “unwelcome sexual advances,” and “unwelcome touching,” according to March reports of the lawsuit. Packer had accused Hastings of offering her invitations to his hotel room, asking inappropriate questions in public including “What kind of underwear are you wearing?” as well as pressuring her to give him gifts and donate to his re-election campaign.
Hastings, a 74-year-old 10-term lawmaker, strongly denies all charges. He stated back in March when reports of the lawsuit became public that he “never sexually harassed anyone.”
“That is a certainty: In a race with a lie, the truth always wins. And when the truth comes to light and the personal agendas of my accusers are exposed, I will be vindicated.”
Democrats this week had hoped that Weiner’s resignation, effective Tuesday, would finally end talk of sex scandals concerning their members and shift focus back to legislating, as well as campaign-based efforts to attack Republicans on Medicare and other issues. The Ethics Committee announced prior to Weiner’s resignation that it had opened an investigation into Weiner’s risque online communications.
The Office of Congressional Ethics is not the House Ethics Committee– which investigates House members and metes out punishments (as it did for New York Democrat Charlie Rangel last winter). The Office was established by then- Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 to better connect the House Ethics Committee with the public and to process public complaints. The Office’s investigation is a precursor to a formal Ethics Committee investigation, which would proceed largely on the recommendation of the Office.
The Wall Street Journal notes that even if the Office passes on recommending an Committee investigation, “its findings must be made public.”
The House Ethics process has drawn heavy criticism for what detractors say is a persistent failure to effectively punish and police its members.