Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) sought to defend himself against an accusation of sexual harassment Tuesday, saying he "developed an affection" for a decades-younger staffer he considered his "soul mate" but never sought a romantic or sexual relationship with her.

Meehan settled with the former aide last year using taxpayer dollars after she filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment. The revelation of the settlement in a report by the New York Times on Saturday led to Meehan's expulsion from the House Ethics Committee, which began investigating his behavior this week.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday — Meehan's first lengthy response to the New York Times report — the four-term congressman denied engaging in harassment. He acknowledged lashing out when he learned the aide had started seriously dating someone outside his congressional office, attributing his reaction to the stress of a debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act.

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"I started to talk to her about my reaction to [her relationship] and you know, selfishly I was thinking about what this was going to mean to me," he told the Inquirer, adding that he "should have been looking at it from the perspective of a subordinate and a superior."

At the same time, he said, he sees his office as non-hierarchical. "We call it Team Meehan," he said.

Meehan settled with the aide using funds from his office budget. While House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has called for Meehan to reimburse taxpayers for the amount, Meehan told the Inquirer he would only do so if the Ethics Committee finds he did engage in harassment.

He said he told her he was "happily married" and "not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship."

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"But we were soul mates," he said. "I think that the idea of soul mate is that sort of person that go through remarkable experiences together."

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The controversy has prompted calls from Democrats for Meehan to resign his seat representing Delaware County, where he already faced a tough reelection bid. As of Tuesday, Meehan said he still planned to run in November.

The Inquirer published a partial image of a handwritten note Meehan sent to the aide last year to wish her well in her new relationship.

"You are kind and sensitive and caring and infectious with your laugh," he wrote. "You are and have been a complete partner to me and have brought me much happiness. It is a very, very lucky man who might get to be your partner for more of your life."

A spokesman for Meehan did not respond to a request for further comment.

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