Report: House Ethics Committee member used taxpayer money to settle sexual misconduct complaint

Rep. Patrick Meehan reportedly paid a former aide thousands of dollars to settle a sexual misconduct case.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), a member of the House Ethics Committee who has positioned himself as a leader in fighting sexual harassment, used taxpayer money to settle his own sexual misconduct case, according to a report in the New York Times on Saturday.

Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican, used thousands of dollars from an office account to settle a complaint from a former aide who said he made unwanted romantic overtures to her. The aide, who was decades younger than the now 62-year-old Meehan, said that he professed his romantic desires for her in person and in a letter; when she did not reciprocate, he grew hostile. The Times’s report is based on interviews with 10 people. It does not name the aide.

Meehan, who is married and a father of three, is currently serving his third term in Congress and is a member of both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Ethics Committee. Prior to arriving in Congress, he served as US attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

As the Times notes, Meehan has been pushing for protections for domestic violence victims since his time as a local prosecutor and in Congress has sponsored legislation mandating the reporting of sexual violence. He is also a member of a bipartisan task force to end such violence.

Meehan is the latest in a string of members of Congress to face allegations of sexual misconduct. The Ethics Committee he sits on has investigated at least four lawmakers recently for the same thing — Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and John Conyers (D-MI) resigned, and Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) and Ruben Kihuen (D-NV) have said they will not run for reelection. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) resigned at the start of the year after facing allegations of groping and other inappropriate behavior from multiple women.

A spokesperson for Meehan said in a statement that the congressman denies the allegations, and his attorneys have asked that the parties involved be released from confidentiality requirements “to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts.”

Meehan’s case is another example of a flawed system for handling sexual misconduct in Congress

According to the Times’s report, Meehan’s aide initially went to the congressman in 2016 to report that a senior male member of his staff had professed his attraction to her. The senior employee left the job; not long after, Meehan signaled to the woman that he was attracted to her as well.

The woman filed a complaint with the Office of Compliance alleging sexual harassment. The process, which includes mandatory waiting periods, mediation sessions, and nondisclosure agreements, demoralized her, according to the Times. After those sessions, the sides reached a settlement for “thousands of dollars” that included a nondisclosure agreement. The ordeal spilled over to the woman’s personal life, and she eventually moved abroad.

Under the current process, settlements reached through the Office of Compliance are supposed to be paid out via a special, secretive account through the Treasury Department. But that’s only been used once for sexual harassment in recent history — an $84,000 payment to a former communications director for Farenthold. Meehan instead paid the woman through his office account, which allows payments to be disguised as salary and reported months after they were made. Conyers did something similar.

It is not yet clear what the fallout will be. On Friday, a Times reporter asked Meehan outside of his office whether he regretted his treatment of the aide. His response: “Thank you for being here tonight.”