Ethics panel ends inquiry, urges ex-lawmaker to repay $84K
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday that a panel investigating former Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold has ended its work now that he has resigned, but the committee didn’t go away quietly.
The committee’s chairman and ranking member revealed that the panel investigating Farenthold was scheduled to hold a vote Wednesday. But, because he has stepped down just days earlier, the panel lost jurisdiction over him. Still, the committee had some pointed words for the seven-year House veteran from Corpus Christi.
Farenthold had said he engaged in no wrongdoing when he settled a lawsuit in which a former aide accused him of sexual harassment and retaliation. But public focus intensified after congressional sources said he’d paid the $84,000 settlement with taxpayer money.
At one point, Farenthold said he would repay the money to the U.S. Treasury. The Ethics Committee’s leaders made note of that.
“We encourage him in the strongest possible terms to uphold that promise,” said Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla.
The committee had been reviewing Farenthold for years after the independent Office of Congressional Ethics in 2015 referred the case with a recommendation that it dismiss the matter.
The review was delayed by difficult in obtaining testimony from key witnesses. In December, Farenthold announced he would not seek re-election. But that still meant the Ethics Committee’s review would continue, and indeed, it was expanded to include whether he may have made false statements or omissions in testimony to the committee and whether he used House resources, including staff time, to benefit his congressional campaign.
The committee’s leaders also issued a call for the Senate to pass legislation to overhaul how members of Congress and their staffs report sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
The legislation, which passed the House in February, would require lawmakers to reimburse the Treasury within 90 days for any harassment settlements made with taxpayer funds, including members who have left office. If they don’t, their wages could be garnished.