The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has launched an investigation into the conduct of Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) amid allegations that he sexually harassed an employee on his 2016 congressional campaign and a lobbyist during his time as a state legislator.
The freshman member of Congress, who has said he would welcome an ethics investigation as a way to clear his name, was considered a rising Democratic star in Nevada politics until earlier this month, when BuzzFeed News published allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances toward his then-campaign finance director.
The story made Kihuen the latest lawmaker to face allegations of misconduct as Congress grapples with how to address what some aides have described as a rampant culture of sexual harassment. Six members of Congress have resigned or announced plans to retire since the beginning of October after facing such allegations.
The BuzzFeed account prompted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to call for Kihuen’s resignation. At the time, Kihuen said he would not resign and welcomed the ethics investigation.
Pelosi renewed her calls for him to step aside on Thursday, while noting Kihuen “wants to go through the ethics process.”
“That is his right to do,” Pelosi said at a news conference on Capitol Hill. “I’ve asked for him to resign. I’ve asked for him to resign right from the start.”
Pelosi was asked Thursday about Kihuen’s status after the Nevada Independent published new allegations that he had made unwanted advances toward a female lobbyist from 2013 to 2015, when he served in the Nevada legislature.
The unnamed lobbyist said the two never dated but that Kihuen touched her thighs and buttocks without consent and sent her hundreds of suggestive text messages, which the Independent reviewed. Kihuen told the news outlet that he would not comment on his dating “relationships” as a state legislator.
The woman in the first story said Kihuen propositioned her for dates and twice touched her thighs without consent. After BuzzFeed published her allegations, Kihuen apologized for any behavior that made her feel uncomfortable.
The Ethics Committee noted that the existence of an investigation does not mean Kihuen necessarily committed wrongdoing. It did not say how long it expects the probe to last.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Ruben Kihuen may have engaged in sexual harassment. The Committee … has begun an investigation and will gather additional information regarding the allegations,” the panel said in statement Friday.