Last week brought a stunning development in Judicial Watch’s efforts to hold Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) accountable for sexually harassing Winsome Packer when they were both involved in the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission. (Hastings was the chairman and Ms. Packer was his employee). The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has concluded there is “probable cause” to believe Hastings “violated House rules, standards of conduct and federal law.”
This conclusion came in a report issued to the House Ethics Committee on October 11, 2011, when the OCE referred the matter for further investigation. It was released to the public this week. The House Ethics Committee, for its part, announced it will continue its review of the case against Hastings as it seeks additional evidence.
Of course, this whole controversy was brought to light when Judicial Watch filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Hastings on behalf of Ms. Packer on March 7, 2011.
Ms. Packer alleges that Rep. Hastings subjected her to unwelcome sexual advances and touching over a two-year period when she worked for the Helsinki Commission. Ms. Packer further alleges that Rep. Hastings, with the assistance of Helsinki Commission Staff Director Fred Turner, retaliated against her when she rebuffed the congressman’s advances.
Here’s a squib from our original complaint detailing the allegations, which were validated by the OCE in its report:
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.
True to form, Hastings attacked Ms. Packer, Judicial Watch, and the OCE. (It could not be more obvious that Hastings is huffing and puffing in an effort to distract the press from the factual allegations against him.)
Here are some remarks I offered to the press in response to the OCE report and House Ethics Committee decision:
We are very pleased that the Office of Congressional Ethics report validated Ms. Packer’s allegations against Rep. Hastings. Now the House Ethics Committee needs to get its act together and punish Rep. Hastings for his reprehensible treatment of Ms. Packer. Given the grave nature of the allegations and the other laws he evidently violated, the Department of Justice ought to investigate the allegations against Rep. Hastings as well.
In the meantime, Judicial Watch will proceed with its lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Packer.
Rep. Hastings’ attacks against Winsome Packer are disgraceful and beneath the office he holds. His response calls to mind his corrupt behavior that resulted in his impeachment and removal from the federal bench.
Judicial Watch worked with then-Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’s team to help create the OCE, and I’m glad to see that it did its job, at least in this case. But the OCE can only recommend matters to the House Ethics Committee, which is the only body that can take punitive action against Hastings. Let’s hope the committee members decide to put the rule of law ahead of political considerations and gets on the ball and begins a real investigation. The Ethics Committee has had the OCE recommendation for over three months but has yet to interview Ms. Packer. And Eric Holder’s Justice Department has any shred of integrity left, it will finally initiate an investigation as well.
In the meantime, our effort to seek accountability for Ms. Packer will continue through Judicial Watch’s independent litigation.