In the wake of the Rep. Anthony Weiner scandal that ultimately forced the disgraced New York Congressman out of office (at least for the time being), Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is now the subject of a congressional ethics investigation for a sexual scandal of his own. You will recall that Judicial Watch on March 7, 2011, sued Hastings on behalf of congressional employee Winsome Packer for “unwelcome sexual advances” and “unwelcome touching”.
The Wall Street Journal broke the story this past Wednesday:
A congressional ethics panel is investigating allegations that Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings sexually harassed a member of his staff, according to people familiar with the matter.
The investigation of Mr. Hastings is being conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House’s independent ethics investigative arm, and it is at a preliminary stage.
It began at least a month ago after Judicial Watch, a conservative group, filed a lawsuit as the legal counsel for Winsome Packer, a staffer on a commission Mr. Hastings headed. She alleged that she had been sexually harassed by the congressman and that he retaliated when she tried to report it.
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) will not issue any punishments or reprimands for Hastings. That’s not its role. Instead, the OCE is an independent body that reviews ethics complaints and makes recommendations to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (or the House Ethics Committee). It can take up to 89 days for the OCE to review the charges and make its recommendation.
(The OCE resulted from congressional ethics reform a few years ago. You may recall Judicial Watch took a leading role in helping to develop an independent body to review ethics complaints. We have also defended the OCE against attempts to weaken and/or undermine it.)
As the OCE reviews the facts of this case, there should be no doubt that Hastings deserves the attention of the House Ethics Committee. Judicial Watch confirms that Ms. Packer is cooperating with the Office of Congressional Ethics. She and Judicial Watch met with investigators for several hours in May.
I detailed the full breadth of Ms. Packer’s case against Hastings when we filed our lawsuit back in March, but I think it’s worth repeating some of the basic charges as detailed in the complaint. (I do recommend you read it in its entirety to get a full sense of Hastings’ abuse of his office.):
For over two years, from January 2008 through February 19, 2010, Ms. Packer was forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings while serving as the Representative of the Commission to the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although Ms. Packer repeatedly rejected Mr. Hastings’ sexual attention and repeatedly complained about the harassment to the Commission Staff Director, Fred Turner, Mr. Hastings refused to stop sexually harassing her. Rather, Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner began to retaliate against Ms. Packer–including making threats of termination–because she continued to object to Mr. Hastings’ conduct. Ms. Packer was particularly vulnerable to such threats because she was a Republican working for the Democratically-controlled Commission, a point that both Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner used to threaten and intimidate her. Eventually, the emotional distress, anxiety, and humiliation caused by the sexual harassment and retaliation caused Ms. Packer to suffer severe health problems and forced her to leave her prestigious position.
According to our complaint, “Mr. Hastings’ intention was crystal clear: he was sexually attracted to Ms. Packer, wanted a sexual relationship with her, and would help progress her career if she acquiesced to his sexual advances.”
Hastings, of course, is flatly denying the charges made in our lawsuit. Rather than accepting responsibility for his behavior, Hastings has instead chosen to take the “Clinton approach” and fight for his position of power.
“In a race with a lie, the truth always wins,” Hastings said back in March when we filed the lawsuit. Let’s hope he’s right.