Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) announced he will not seek reelection in 2018, after the explosive fallout from sexual harassment allegations against him from a former aide.
Meehan, who used taxpayer money to settle the sexual misconduct after the female staffer said he made unwanted romantic overtures to her, made things worse for himself this week when he said the woman “invited” his behavior and that she was his “soul mate” while at the same time denying misconduct.
Meehan initially said he would seek reelection but changed his mind this week. His decision could mean a tight 2018 race for Republicans in Pennsylvania’s Seventh District, in Philadelphia’s suburbs. Republicans have just a couple of months to come up with a replacement candidate before a March 6 deadline to submit petitions to appear on the state’s ballot.
There’s a crowded Democratic primary in the Seventh District as well; Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach is in the race, as well as a few other political newcomers including biomedical engineer Molly Sheehan and candidate Paul Perry, who worked at a nonprofit before launching his campaign.
The New York Times on Saturday reported that Meehan, a member of the House Ethics Committee who positioned himself as a leader in fighting sexual harassment, settled a sexual misconduct case with a woman who used to work for him using thousands of dollars in taxpayer money. House Speaker Paul Ryan removed Meehan from the Ethics Committee following the report.
Meehan used money from an office account to settle the complaint from a former aide who said he made unwanted romantic passes at 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 report is based on interviews with 10 people. It does not name the aide.
Meehan spoke with the Times on Tuesday and said that the woman “specifically invited” his intimate communications, adding that her complaint had hurt his feelings. “That I would find later that that was not something that she was comfortable with, really hurts me,” he said. “This was a person who specifically invited communication with me so that she would be able to have the ability to be there for me.”
He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he looked at the settlement “the way somebody might look at a customary resolution of a matter in which we can allow the parties to move forward,” and while he had handled the situation (namely, his feelings for her and growing hostile after finding out she had a boyfriend) “poorly,” he didn’t think he’d done anything egregiously wrong. He said he told the aide “that I was a happily married man and I was not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship, but we were soul mates. I think that the idea of soul mate is that sort of person that you go through remarkable experiences together.”
Perhaps most puzzlingly, he said his behavior might have been because of stress related to votes on the Affordable Care Act.
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, until Saturday, 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 sat 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.”
Statement from Meehan spox about the NYT article pic.twitter.com/wc63GJidoK— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) January 20, 2018
On Saturday night, Ryan’s office said that Meehan would be removed from the Ethics Committee and that the allegations against him “must be fully and immediately investigated.” Ryan also called for Meehan to return whatever taxpayer money he used to settle the complaint. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer he would repay the public funds used to settle the case — if the Ethics Committee concludes that he harassed her.
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.”
Update: Story has been updated with Meehan’s removal from House Ethics Committee and his comments to the Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.