Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), who previously announced his retirement from Congress following reports he had paid a secret settlement to a staffer who accused him of harassment, resigned outright Friday.

His resignation came as the House Ethics Committee continued a probe into his behavior that could have resulted in serious sanctions. The former aide, a younger woman, alleged that Meehan had confessed romantic feelings for her after she became involved with another man. Meehan, she alleged, later retaliated after she repelled his advances.

“I have decided that stepping down now is in the interest of the constituents I have been honored to serve,” Meehan said in a statement. “While I do believe I would be exonerated of any wrongdoing, I also did not want to put my staff through the rigors of an Ethics Committee investigation and believed it was best for them to have a head start on new employment rather than being caught up in an inquiry. And since I have chosen to resign, the inquiry will not become a burden to taxpayers and committee staff.”

Meehan said that he “did not want to leave with any question of violating the trust of taxpayers” and would repay the $39,000 settlement that was paid as a severance payment to his former staffer.

Debra Katz, an attorney for the woman, blasted Meehan’s decision to resign, saying he did so not to spare his staff or taxpayers but rather to evade accountability for his own actions.

“They were moving quickly to adjudicate this before the end of his term, and I just believe he’s taken the coward’s way out here,” she said. “This wasn’t going to go well for him.”

After Meehan’s alleged misbehavior was first exposed in a January New York Times article, he gave an interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer where he admitted to “develop[ing] an affection” for the former aide and described her as a “soul mate” while also denying wanting a sexual relationship or any other misconduct.

Katz said her client traveled long distances, shared “reams” of documents, and spent many hours being questioned by Ethics Committee staff in the expectation that Meehan would be sanctioned for his misbehavior. That process will now end with no consequences for Meehan.

“Once again, instead of taking responsibility for his behavior and apologizing, he’s saying that he’s doing this to protect his staff, which is ludicrous,” Katz said. “He continues to retraumatize her instead of accepting responsibility, and this is just the final blow.”

In his statement, Meehan said that he wished his congressional career “would have finished in a more satisfying manner” but said he was proud of his accomplishments during seven years in office. “I recognize that there are constituents who are disappointed in the manner in which I handled the situation that [led] to my decision not to seek re-election and wish I had done better by them,” he said.

The statement said Meehan “has no future plans to discuss at this time.”

Meehan’s departure could prompt a special election in his suburban Philadelphia district. That decision will be made by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who is also considering whether to hold a special election in the Allentown-area district that Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) is expected to vacate later this year.