While maintaining that he didn’t do anything wrong, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) said Monday he plans to pay back the $84,000 settlement the Congressional Office of Compliance paid out to settle a sexual harassment complaint between him and a former staffer.
Speaking with local Texas television station KRIS 6, Farenthold said he plans to hand a check to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) this week to repay taxpayers for what the settlement cost them, so that he can have the credibility to talk about reforming the way in which complaints against members of Congress are handled.
“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this, and I want to be able to talk about it and fix the system without people saying, ‘Blake you benefited from the system, you don’t have a right to talk about it or fix it,’” he said.
On Friday, Politico and NBC reported that Farenthold was the only member of Congress whom the Office of Compliance had paid a sexual harassment settlement for in the past five years. In 2014, Farenthold’s former communication director Lauren Greene sued him over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, TPM reported at the time. She alleged that one of Farenthold’s male staffers told her the congressman had “wet dreams” and “sexual fantasies” about her and that Farenthold drank too much and told her inappropriate things about his sex life.
Greene dropped the suit when the two agreed to an $84,000 settlement, which was secretly paid using taxpayers dollars by the Office of Compliance. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated the allegations against Farenthold as well, but found that Greene’s complaints were unsubstantiated.
The Office of Compliance has secretly paid out $17 million in taxpayer dollars for settlements over the past 20 years over misconduct complaints against members of Congress. It’s not known how many cases were sexual harassment claims, besides the Farenthold case and another case from 2010 where the office gave $100,000 to staffers of former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) for groping allegations.
Neither Farenthold nor Greene’s attorney said they could confirm or deny whether they were the parties involved in the $84,000 settlement on Friday, but both parties shared a joint statement they had written at the time that said they had reached a deal. Farenthold said he hired a new attorney over the weekend to find out what he could say publicly regarding the settlement.
“I wish I could’ve said something Friday, I went to the House lawyer and asked ‘What can I say?’ And they said, ‘Here’s the statement that you can make,’ and Saturday when I got home I opened up the settlement agreement and read it myself and go ‘I think I can say more than I’m saying,’” he said. “And I hired another lawyer out of my own pocket for reviewing and he said ‘Blake, you can talk about the process all you want.’ And the process is broken.”
The House Ethics Committee sent a letter to the Office of Compliance on Friday asking for the records of all alleged misconduct claims made against sitting members or employees of the House.
Watch the interview below: