WASHINGTON — A Texas Republican said today he won’t run for re-election after another former aide accused him of harassment.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said earlier this month that he’d repay $84,000 in taxpayer funds used to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed against him by his former communications director, but there has been up to this date little indication from GOP leadership that he was pressed to step down.
“I think he’s making the right decision to retire,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said at his press conference today. “There are new stories that are very disconcerting.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee said in 2015 that there was not “substantial” reason to believe that Farenthold sexually harassed former communications director Lauren Greene. A settlement was awarded to the former staffer that November. That included a non-disclosure agreement preventing her from talking about details of the case.
In the federal court filing back then, Greene said the congressman said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her. Greene claimed Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.” He also allegedly said Greene could “show her nipples whenever she wanted to.”
The House Ethics Committee said last week that it’s continuing to probe the Farenthold allegations, saying new evidence warranted investigation.
Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, Michael Rekola, told CNN in a story released Wednesday that the congressman told Rekola before his wedding, “Better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” He also joked about whether Rekola’s fiancée could wear white on her wedding day. Rekola accused the congressman of abusive behavior that was not sexual, such as screaming calling staffers “f**ktards.”
Farenthold told CNN that he regularly referred to aides as “f**ktards” but “in jest, not in anger.”
“In hindsight, I admit it wasn’t appropriate,” the congressman said. He denied making the sexual comments about Rekola’s fiancée.
In a video statement released today, Farenthold admitted he “allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional.”
“It accommodated destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes and behavior in general that was less than professional,” he said. “I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with respect that they deserve. That was wrong.”
The congressman denied sexual harassment allegations. “I want to be perfectly clear. The charges that were made are false,” Farenthold said.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said in a statement, “I respect Congressman Farenthold’s decision and thank him for his service. Congress must work harder to hold ourselves to a higher standard, which is why the House took action to ensure this body is a safe and constructive workplace for all. However, there is still more work to be done.”
“The NRCC is confident we will hold this seat,” Stivers added.