The Office of Congressional Ethics has made inquiries into an allegation that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) sexually harassed a woman who worked on a commission that he once co-chaired, according to the head of the organization that represents her.
Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative-leaning watchdog organization Judicial Watch, said Wednesday that the ethics office last month contacted the group’s client, Winsome Packer, who alleged in a lawsuit in March that Hastings, a 10-term congressman, made “unwelcome sexual advances” toward her from 2008 to 2010.
“They did contact Ms. Packer,” Fitton said of the ethics office in a brief phone interview. “She’s fully cooperating.”
A Hastings spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a previous statement when the lawsuit was first filed, Hastings called the allegations “ludicrous” and said he had “never sexually harassed anyone.”
News of the ethics office inquiry was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Packer served as a policy adviser on the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which Hastings co-chaired until early this year. In the lawsuit, she alleges that Hastings made repeated requests to accompany him to his hotel room on trips; asked Packer “humiliating and inappropriate” questions in public; and made unwanted physical contact.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit, which Judicial Watch filed on behalf of Packer in March with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, are the commission and Fred Turner, its former staff director. Packer alleges that when she reported the advances to her superiors, Hastings and Turner attempted to retaliate against her.
The next step in the legal battle will come on July 9, when answers from Hastings, Turner and the commission are due in court, according to Fitton. Meanwhile, the ethics inquiry will take place on a separate track. The independent Office of Congressional Ethics may decide whether to direct the House Committee on Ethics, a bipartisan panel made up of ten House members, to further investigate the case.