WASHINGTON ― House lawmakers celebrated themselves this week for passing a bill that cracks down on sexual harassers in Congress. But they have an alleged harasser in their midst who is trying to quietly slip by: Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).
Farenthold spent $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former female aide three years ago. Details of this settlement weren’t public until early December 2017, at which point the congressman said he would retire at the end of 2018 and would immediately repay the money to the Treasury Department. He never sent the check.
By late January, his office said he was “waiting to see what changes the House makes to the Congressional Accountability Act before repaying the funds.” On Tuesday, the House passed a bill to strengthen that law, which provides workplace protections in Capitol Hill offices. But now his office says he’s waiting to see if the Senate passes the bill, if the president signs it, and if this theoretical new law will inspire him to pay up.
“He is waiting on the advice of counsel to see what final bill is enacted,” Bob Haueter, Farenthold’s chief of staff, told HuffPost on Wednesday. “Once the final bill is done and the law is changed and is complete and he can see that, he will make a determination of how he proceeds.”
By all appearances, this is a case of a GOP congressman ridiculously moving the goalposts to avoid paying back tens of thousands of dollars before he leaves at the end of the year. The House bill has no bearing on Farenthold’s situation ― it is not retroactive ― and there is nothing to prevent him from cutting a check today.
He’s not hard up for money, either. The guy is worth millions of dollars.
HuffPost asked if Farenthold would repay the $84,000 after he leaves office, in the event the president does not sign a law this year relating to Congress’ sexual harassment policies.
“I guess we’ll have to look at that, how it occurs,” said Haueter. “At this point in time, right now, he’s expecting Congress to act.”
It’s a wonder that Farenthold is still in Congress at all. Several of his colleagues have recently resigned in disgrace amid allegations of sexual misconduct. At a time when the #MeToo movement is driving powerful, high-profile sexual harassers out of their jobs, it’s hard to imagine someone in the private sector not being punished for the kind of behavior Farenthold has been accused of.
His former spokeswoman Lauren Greene said in legal documents that Farenthold told another aide that Greene could “show her nipples whenever she wanted to” and that he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. She describes the congressman as often being drunk and flirtatious at work, complaining of a sexless marriage and telling her a story about a female lobbyist propositioning him for “a threesome.”
Two other Farenthold aides complained in 2016 of a toxic work environment. One described staffers talking about male lobbyists sending them pictures of their genitals and other staffers making lewd comments “about female reporters’ breast size.”