Farenthold probe to look into possible false statements, misuse of resources

  • Elise Viebeck
  • The Washington Post
7:15 a.m. Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 Politics
Susan Walsh/AP
In this Dec. 19, 2017, photo, Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, arrives for a meeting of House Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Ethics Committee is expanding its investigation of Farenthold to determine whether he lied to the committee in its inquiry into sexual harassment allegations. The panel is also reviewing whether he directed his congressional staff to work on his election campaigns. Farenthold is the subject of an investigation into whether he sexually harassed a former member of his staff.

The House Committee on Ethics expanded its investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold to probe whether he might have lied or omitted facts while testifying before the panel and used House resources to benefit his congressional campaigns. 

Ethics committee Chairwoman Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and ranking Democratic member Theodore Deutch, D-Fla., said the committee voted unanimously on Thursday to widen its inquiry beyond allegations that Farenthold, R-Texas, sexually harassed, discriminated or retaliated against his staff. 

The expansion of the probe comes as the ethics committee faces pressure to take serious action against lawmaker misconduct, as Capitol Hill reckons with a wave of allegations of sexual harassment. 

Farenthold recently announced he would not seek reelection amid renewed attention to his 2014 settlement with a former aide who accused him of making comments designed to gauge whether she was interested in a sexual relationship. Other former staffers also alleged in recent news reports that he was prone to outbursts and other unprofessional behavior. 

In a video posted to his Facebook page, the four-term congressman denied the accusations that led to the settlement, but apologized for fostering a "permissive and decidedly unprofessional" work environment. 

The latest allegations were not detailed in news reports about Farenthold's purportedly inappropriate office culture. Farenthold represents the 27th Congressional District along the Texas Gulf Coast, including Corpus Christi, and has faced questions about why he is choosing to serve out his term. 

The widened ethics investigation could increase pressure on him to resign immediately. 

The panel is now investigating allegations that Farenthold "may have made false statements or omissions in testimony to the Committee," according to a statement from Brooks and Deutch. 

The inquiry has also widened to look into whether Farenthold or his deputies "used House resources, including staff time, to benefit his congressional campaigns" or "required members of his congressional staff to work on his congressional campaigns." 

Brooks and Deutch noted that the existence of an investigation does not itself indicate wrongdoing. 

Farenthold spokeswoman Stacey Daniels noted that the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent ethics monitor, sided with Farenthold when it examined allegations he sexually harassed his former communications director, Lauren Greene. She did not specifically address the latest allegations. 

"Congressman Farenthold has cooperated fully with both the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee for almost three years," Daniels wrote in an email. "He looks forward to this issue being resolved in his favor, once again, and will continue to cooperate fully with the Ethics Committee." 

The ethics panel also announced Thursday that it established an investigative subcommittee to look into allegations that Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., made unwanted sexual advances toward several women, including a former campaign aide. 

Kihuen and Farenthold are two of the seven members of Congress who have resigned or said they would not run for reelection amid allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct since October. Another, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., delivered his farewell speech to the Senate on Thursday and will resign Jan. 2.