WE ARE beginning to get a clearer picture of why Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) suddenly resigned his seat after months of insisting he would complete his term. The House Ethics Committee was about to lay bare some of the sordid details of his misconduct in office. Well, nobody in Washington will miss him, but Mr. Farenthold shouldn’t be allowed to escape his obligation to repay the public the $84,000 he used to secretly settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
Mr. Farenthold, a former conservative radio host serving his fourth term in Congress, abruptly resigned April 6, just days before the House Ethics Committee was set to release findings of its investigation into his conduct. The committee, HuffPost reported, had given him a heads-up it was going to rule against him, setting up a public hearing on allegations that he sexually harassed members of his staff, used official money for campaign purposes and lied in previous testimony to the committee.
Given such tawdry allegations, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mr. Farenthold thinks he can get away with one more: skipping out on the promise he made in December and reiterated this year to repay the public money used to settle a 2014 lawsuit brought by his former communications director. “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this” were his exact words when the secret payment was revealed and the resulting controversy caused him not to seek reelection.
He made no mention of the outstanding debt when he resigned, deleted his Twitter and Facebook accounts, and went silent. “I would ask if he has any shame, but I think we all know the answer to that question,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.). His resignation ended House jurisdiction over him, but members of the Ethics Committee called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money.
Ms. Speier said that weeks before Mr. Farenthold’s resignation, she had asked House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to force him to repay the money, to no avail. The tepid response of Republican leadership to this matter — there were few GOP calls for Mr. Farenthold’s resignation — stands in contrast to how Democratic leadership made clear it would not tolerate sexual harassment from members on its side of the aisle. Mr. Ryan should make up for that failure of leadership: If Mr. Farenthold refuses to make good on his debt, Mr. Ryan should come up with the money for repayment.