The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday it has established a subcommittee to investigate allegations of misconduct by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), expanding its work in light of new information that surfaced in recent weeks about a 2015 settlement agreement he reached with his former aide.
The committee initially launched an investigation into Farenthold in September 2015, but it was “significantly delayed” because the committee could not get “key witnesses other than Representative Farenthold” to testify, according to the committee’s statement.
His former communications director, Lauren Greene, in 2014 accused Farenthold of making sexually charged comments designed to gauge whether she was interested in a sexual relationship. Greene filed suit through the formal complaint process of the congressional Office of Compliance.
It was revealed last week that Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle the lawsuit. The existence of this settlement was reported publicly in 2015, but the amount was unknown until the Committee on House Administration recently released new records on settlements involving House members’ offices over the past five years. Farenthold has denied wrongdoing in the case.
This week, Greene spoke publicly about her experience for the first time since making the accusation. In interviews with CNN and Politico, she described the significant professional backlash she faced after filing a lawsuit against Farenthold.
The House Ethics Committee has requested Greene to cooperate with the investigation and appear before the panel. Prior to coming forward, Greene had declined, wanting to move on from the matter. But she has now agreed to cooperate with the investigation, said her attorney, Les Alderman.
“We’re trying to get that done before the holidays, over the next few weeks,” Alderman said.
Greene had cooperated with the earlier Office of Congressional Ethics investigation. The committee cleared Farenthold of the allegations and recommended the House Committee on Ethics dismiss the the allegations.
Farenthold said in a statement Thursday that he is “relieved” the House Ethics Committee will continue investigating the matter, saying he is “confident this matter will once and for all be settled and resolved.”
“I’m also pleased the Committee on Ethics recognizes, as per their statement, that I have cooperated fully with the committee’s investigation and has acknowledged a decision has been delayed because of difficulty obtaining live testimony from other witnesses,” Farenthold said. “This investigation increases the transparency the public deserves and what I’ve wanted since the beginning.”
The Ethics Committee said it has reviewed more than 200,000 pages of materials and interviewed multiple witnesses. It will now resume its investigation to figure out whether Farenthold violated the code of conduct in the House.
Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a nonprofit group focused on government ethics, said the House Ethics Committee now “needs to release publicly what the process should be in the future for settling these kinds of claims.”
“Since these allegations came to light, it appears from the outside that the $84,000 did in fact buy silence and affected what the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee could do,” McGehee said. “Now that silence has been broken, and they have credible information and they need to act on it.”