Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican who was facing an ethics investigation after using taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim from a former staffer, abruptly resigned his seat Friday.
Farenthold had announced in December that he would not seek reelection, but until Friday he appeared determined to serve out his fourth term in the House.
He said in a statement Friday that he had sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) resigning his seat effective at 5 p.m.
“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in the statement, which thanked his staff, family and constituents but offered no further rationale for his decision to immediately resign.
In December, the House Ethics Committee said it would probe not only the allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation but also whether Farenthold might have lied or omitted facts while giving testimony to the panel, as well as whether he improperly used House resources to benefit his political campaign. Farenthold’s resignation brings that probe to an immediate end.
There is one unsettled matter: Farenthold publicly promised in December to repay taxpayers for the $84,000 that was paid to his former communications director, Lauren Greene, who alleged in a 2014 lawsuit that he had discussed having sexual fantasies and “wet dreams” about her and that he had fired her after she complained about his behavior.
Despite Farenthold’s pledge, he has not made any payment. A spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email asking whether he still intended to reimburse taxpayers.
The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), jabbed Farenthold on the matter in a statement responding to his resignation: “I hope Blake is true to his word and pays back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used as a settlement. As I have said repeatedly, Congress must hold ourselves to a higher standard and regain the trust of the American people.”
While Texas law allows the governor to call an emergency election to fill a vacant congressional seat, a Republican official familiar with the circumstances surrounding Farenthold’s resignation said that no election will be held to fill the seat before November.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.