Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Va.) repeatedly asked his staff to run his personal errands, from buying cigarettes and carrying groceries to helping his children apply to schools, in violation of House rules, the House Ethics Committee said Wednesday in a lengthy report.
But Garrett, who announced in May that he is struggling with alcoholism and would not seek reelection, will not have to repay the federal government for the time his staff spent on unofficial tasks, the committee said.
In its 47-page report, the panel’s nonpartisan staff suggested that Garrett and his wife, Flanna Garrett, were dragging their feet during the investigation in an effort to avoid censure.
“The Garretts’ delays and last minute productions raise concerns that they were trying to run out the clock on the Committee’s jurisdiction,” the committee said in its staff report, adding that the beginning of the new Congress on Thursday meant that it lacked time to compel the cooperation of Garrett’s wife.
In a statement, Garrett denounced the House Ethics Committee staff report as “based on half-truths and whole lies” from “disgruntled former staffers who stood to gain.”
Nonetheless, he said he was pleased that no action was taken by the lawmakers on the panel and maintained that “while justice is often not served in life, it is always served in the afterlife.”
“I’m sorry for the hurt that the lies perpetuated in this staff report wrought upon my wife and children, but I’m delighted that as I write this, I am seven months and nine days without a drink,” Garrett said. “The courage to attack that demon ironically sprung largely from the falsehoods that undergird this ridiculous process.”
Members of Congress who violate rules on the use of staff time and official resources are typically required to reimburse the U.S. Treasury.
House Ethics Committee staff interviewed 11 witnesses, reviewed 1,500 pages of documents and authorized four subpoenas in the course of their investigation, the panel said.
The new report goes into greater detail than a separate report last month by the Office of Congressional Ethics. It details a variety of inappropriate requests made by the Garretts of the congressman’s staff and says the behavior was part of a pattern that “continued even after Representative Garrett was specifically advised of relevant rules and regulations by the Committee’s advice and education staff.”
Garrett is an Army veteran and former commonwealth’s attorney with a libertarian streak who served as a Virginia state senator before winning a seat in Congress in 2016. He represented Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Charlottesville.
Staffers in Garrett’s office were asked to carry groceries for the congressman and his wife, care for their dog, drive and service their car, schedule their medical appointments and help them move between apartments, according to the report. Garrett also asked staffers to help his children obtain passports and apply to schools, buy him cigarettes and give tours to people who were not his constituents, the report states.
Several staffers told the committee that Garrett’s wife “would berate staff, often using profanity and other harsh language, for failing to prioritize her needs over their regular official duties.”
In one text message to the congressman’s chief of staff, Flanna Garrett wrote: “NONE of what I asked to be done with the phone was done. Not a f****** thing. I am going to sit down with some of your staff and tell them how f****** disrespectful and STUPIDLY shortsighted they are for completely disregarding every thing [sic] I asked them to do.”
Garrett “failed to place any limits” on his wife’s interactions with staff, leaving them feeling “disparaged and bullied,” the committee report states.
Two witnesses also told investigators that Garrett had inquired about buying marijuana and had used marijuana with staffers.
When asked about those claims, Garrett denied them, telling investigators, “I prosecuted for the better part of a decade. If I wanted to buy marijuana, I could have it for you right quick like.”
The committee’s staff concluded that Garrett was “plainly confused” about what actions were permissible for his staff to carry out and that members of his office were in turn confused because “the lines between personal and official, between voluntary and required, were so often blurred.”
That confusion was exacerbated by Flanna Garrett’s “bullying behavior,” the report said.
The congressman acknowledged to the committee’s investigators that “stuff happened that probably shouldn’t have happened” but also said he believed it was permissible to ask his staffers to carry out personal tasks as long as they were being paid by his campaign.
The House Ethics Committee said it was concerned that other lawmakers may share Garrett’s confusion and that it was publishing its report in an effort to provide guidance to the broader House community.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.