State senator’s sex harassment case is upended as ‘unidentified’ person takes responsibility
AUSTIN — A mysterious third person has claimed responsibility for the lewd text messages that prompted a sex harassment investigation of influential State Sen. Charles Schwertner, leaving the inquiry inconclusive and raising even more questions.
There is not enough evidence to prove that Schwertner sent the text messages and a picture of his genitals to a college student who went to him for career advice, investigators with the University of Texas concluded. The investigators did find, however, that Schwertner used an encryption app to hide his phone number.
The investigation revealed the possibility that a third person who had passwords to Schwertner’s LinkedIn account and the “Hushed” encryption app Schwertner used had sent the messages, pretending to be the senator. Neither Schwertner nor the third person — who claimed responsibility through an attorney, according to UT documents — fully cooperated with investigators, leaving them guessing as to what really happened.
“Though an unidentified third person, through an attorney, claims responsibility for sending the text messages and photograph, we cannot test the truthfulness of that claim,” reads the report, which was released to Hearst Newspapers on Tuesday in response to an open records request.
The report continues: Schwertner “has access to information that could allow a more definitive conclusion to this matter, but (he) is unwilling to share that information, and the University lacks authority to compel him to cooperate more fully.”
It’s unclear whether Schwertner, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, will be subject to another investigation by the Texas Senate, which revised its sexual harassment policy this spring. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversees the Senate, said in September he would wait until the conclusion of the UT investigation to decide. His staff said Tuesday that Patrick was reviewing the report.
An orthopedic surgeon from Georgetown, Schwertner was accused of sending lewd sexually explicit messages to the woman, a University of Texas graduate student who approached him to learn more about health care and politics. After exchanging messages on LinkedIn about attending a committee meeting and giving him her phone number, the woman received a text message that appeared to be from Schwertner: “Sorry. I really just wanted to [have sex with] you,” it said.
Other messages followed, including a picture of his penis, the records show. Other messages included: “Send a pic?” “I’ll send you one.” “It’s me. Want me to prove?” “And I have more proof of life,” with a smiley face.
Schwertner has denied sending the messages or the picture, going so far as to take a lie detector test. Polygraph administrators paid by Schwertner’s attorneys concluded he was not deceptive when asked about the allegations.
“I do not condone sexual misconduct of any kind,” Schwertner said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “The University of Texas has closed their investigation because I did not send the offensive text messages in question. I appreciate the steadfast support of my family, friends and the voters who believed in and reelected me just weeks ago. This unfortunate matter is now closed. Finally, I thank God for the strength he has graced me with during this troubling time.”
His attorneys, David and Perry Minton of Austin, said in a statement they were pleased with the outcome but were frustrated the university would not ensure Schwertner confidentiality if he agreed to speak with the investigators.
The report did not include the name of the third party’s attorney.
“These are not the actions of an innocent man. Senator Charles Schwertner is a liar and clearly unfit to serve in elected office,” said Crystal Perkins, the Texas Democratic Party executive director in an emailed statement.
The University of Texas investigation was supposed to establish whether Schwertner violated Title IX, which prohibits sexual harassment.
The university hired Johnny Sutton, a former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas and a partner at the Ashcroft Sutton Reyes law firm, to investigate. The investigation included forensic examinations of both Schwertner’s phone, and the student’s phone. That analysis determined the senator and the third person used the same “Hushed” account to communicate to each other, the UT records say. Schwerter would not disclose who the third person is or their relationship, according to the investigation report.
The investigation also found that the “Hushed” app included an electronic trace of communications that established the text messages and photograph the student received were not sent from Schwertner’s cell phone.
Investigators say Schwertner refused to disclose whether he had multiple devices, such as another iPhone or iPad, which could also have been used to send the messages. The third person’s cell phone was also not made available and investigators were not able to verify claims made by the third person’s attorney.