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A Republican tasked with fighting against sexual harassment in Congress secretly settled a misconduct complaint filed against him by a former aide, The New York Times first reported Saturday.
According to the report, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), a member of the House Ethics Committee and married father of three, expressed interest in the personal life of a female aide who was decades younger than him. Meehan eventually attempted to pursue a romantic relationship with the aide and became hostile when she rejected his advances, the Times said.
The advances reportedly made the aide, who remains anonymous, so uncomfortable that she filed a complaint against Meehan, began working from home and, eventually, quit.
Meehan was booted from the House Ethics Committee on Saturday, hours after the Times story was published. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced Meehan’s ouster in a statement to HuffPost.
In its story, the Times spoke with 10 people who either worked in Meehan’s office or were friends with the aide at the time the alleged harassment took place.
After the aide left her post in Meehan’s office, Meehan reportedly paid her an undisclosed amount from his congressional office fund, which includes taxpayer money, as part of a confidential agreement.
Meehan denies the former aide’s allegations, his spokesman John Elizandro told HuffPost in an email, adding that he “has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism.”
Elizandro said the former employee was represented by counsel and “made certain assertions of inappropriate behavior which were investigated.”
He also insisted that Meehan “would only act with advice of House Counsel and consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance,” and that he had handled the process “ethically and appropriately.”
Meehan requested that the congressional lawyers involved in the case release both parties from the confidentiality agreement “to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts,” Elizandro said.
According to the former colleagues of the employee, Meehan expressed so much interest in her while she worked in his office that others viewed it as unprofessional. He then appeared to become jealous when she entered a serious relationship last year, the Times reported.
Meehan reportedly told the woman of his romantic feelings in person and later in a handwritten letter. The aide filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment after she said Meehan became hostile toward her.
The former aide told the Times that those tasked with handling the complaint, including two representatives for Meehan and two lawyers for the Office of House Employment Counsel, suggested she had misinterpreted Meehan’s behavior, leaving her feeling demoralized.
Meehan and his former aide eventually reached a settlement and nondisclosure agreement after mandatory counseling and mediation sessions, according to the Times.
Over the past few months, the House Ethics Committee has been investigating several members of congress who are facing sexual harassment allegations or who have reached settlements with their accusers. In December, the committee opened investigations into sexual harassment claims made against Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.).
In light of those investigations, both Farenthold (who reportedly used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle his claim) and Kihuen announced they would not be running for re-election; Franks resigned from Congress.
Lawmakers in the House have issued more than $100,000 in taxpayer-funded settlements for sexual harassment claims made between 2008 to 2012, HuffPost reported in December.
House and Senate legislators have since introduced proposals to ban the use of taxpayer-funded settlements.
After speaking with Meehan on Saturday, Ryan said Meehan was submitting himself to the Ethics Committee for review, Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement to HuffPost.
Ryan also urged Meehan to repay the funds he used in his settlement.
“The new reforms going into place bar the use of taxpayer money to pay settlements, and so the speaker has also told Mr. Meehan that he should repay whatever taxpayer funds were used to settle this case,” Strong said on Ryan’s behalf.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
That same year, Francis was captured on video telling a group of tourists at Vatican City that people in Osorno who protested Barros’ appointment were “dumb” and “judging a bishop without any proof.”
Francis’ trip to Chile this week was marred by street protests and the burning of nearly a dozen churches as people voiced frustration with how the church is handling the clergy sex abuse scandal.
On Tuesday, Francis expressed “pain and shame” over the abuse scandal and begged for victims’ forgiveness. He met and reportedly wept with Chilean survivors of abuse, The Associated Press reported.
But he has also continued to show support for Barros. The New York Times reported that the bishop participated in the pope’s ceremonies in the cities of Santiago, Iquique and Temuco.
Barros told reporters that the Pope offered him “words of support and affection” during the visit.
Words Versus Action On Preventing Sexual Abuse
In the past, Francis has shown signs that he’s willing and ready to take serious steps to confront the problem of sexual abuse in the church. Still, some victims’ advocates are worried that the Vatican is not moving quickly to keep kids safe.
In December 2013, victims’ groups rejoiced when Francis decided to assemble a Vatican committee dedicated solely to fighting child sex abuse in the church. The group, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, initially included two survivors of clergy sex abuse.
In 2017, one of those survivors, Irish activist Marie Collins, announced that she was stepping down out of frustration with Vatican bureaucracy. In an opinion piece for the National Catholic Reporter, Collins wrote about facing a number of stumbling blocks, including a lack of resources and the resistance of some in the Vatican Curia toward implementing the commission’s recommendations.
The last straw for her was the refusal of a group at the Vatican to ensure that all letters from victims received a response.
“I find it impossible to listen to public statements about the deep concern in the church for the care of those whose lives have been blighted by abuse, yet to watch privately as a congregation in the Vatican refuses to even acknowledge their letters!” Collins wrote last March. “It is a reflection of how this whole abuse crisis in the Church has been handled: with fine words in public and contrary actions behind closed doors.”
In December, all of the commission members’ terms formally expired and the initiative’s future is unclear.
Secular groups have also delved into the problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. In December, the Australian government concluded an extensive, multi-year inquiry into sexual abuse of children in the country. The commission’s final report found that 59 percent of the more than 8,000 survivors interviewed said they were sexually abused in an institution managed by a religious organization. About 62 percent of that group said that the institution was managed by the Catholic Church.
The commission came up with a number of recommendations for the church. It urged the church to end the secrecy of the confessional when it prevents or discourages compliance with mandatory reporting laws. The commission also asked the church to rethink the requirement of priestly celibacy, which, while not a direct cause, elevated the risk of abuse.
Melbourne’s archbishop has dismissed both of those recommendations, since they involve changes to longstanding church tradition.
But Kieran Tapsell, a retired civil lawyer who submitted a paper on canon law to the commission, believes there are many other recommendations the commission made that could be put into practice ― such as ensuring there’s no statute of limitations for canonical trials and requiring Vatican congregations and courts to publish reasons for their disciplinary decisions.
″[These] recommendations had more to do with church law and practice, and could be more easily implemented, if church leadership is willing to take up this challenge,” Tapsell wrote in an analysis for the National Catholic Reporter.
But, as demonstrated in Chile, much of that change starts with the pope.
The president of the Chilean bishops’ conference, Monsignor Santiago Silva, told The New York Times on Friday that it would continue to support Barros ― trusting in Francis’ opinion of the bishop.
“The pope told us what he wants, and he wants Monsignor Barros to continue,” Silva said.
Backlash In Chile And Across The Globe
In Chile and around the world, Francis’ remarks in defense of Barros have caused outrage among survivors of clergy abuse.
Juan Carlos Cruz, one of Karadima’s most vocal victims, was particularly unnerved by Francis’ demand for “proof” that Barros had been complicit in the abuse.
“These people are absolutely crazy, and [the pope] is talking about reparation to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”
Patrick Noaker, a lawyer who has represented dozens survivors of sexual abuse in Minnesota, said that Cruz’s testimony appears to him to be extremely powerful. That’s because when it comes to child sexual abuse, there is rarely evidence outside the testimony of the victim.
Francis’ defense of Barros is a reminder to Noaker that bishops are “the princes of the Catholic church, and they are protected at all cost.”
“The statement by the pope reveals a hard-liner position that he will protect bishops over children,” he told HuffPost in an email. “This will discourage survivors of sexual abuse from reporting their abuse because they will not have photographs or other evidence of the abuse outside of their testimony.”
Other advocates for abuse survivors have the same fear that victims will be afraid to come forward with their stories. Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the online database BishopAccountability.org, called Francis’ attack on the Chilean sex abuse survivors a “stunning setback.”
“The burden of proof here rests with the Church, not with victims ― and especially not with victims whose veracity already has been affirmed,” Doyle said in a statement. “Exhaustive investigations by both church and civil authorities proved the allegations of Juan Carlos Cruz [and others] in regards to Karadima. A reasonable person would consider that they are telling the truth about Barros also.”
“Who knows how many victims now will decide to stay hidden, for fear they too will be attacked as slanderers?” she added.
David Greenwood, a volunteer lawyer with the British advocacy group Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, echoed Doyle and Noaker’s concerns.
“For the Pope to be deliberately confrontational and challenging in this way will prevent survivors coming forward to share their ordeals,” Greenwood told HuffPost in an email.
The church’s handling of the abuse scandal in Chile has disillusioned many of the country’s Catholics. A survey by the regional polling firm Latinobarometro found that only 42 percent of Chilean Catholics approved of the job Francis is doing, compared with an average of 68 percent for 18 other Central and South American countries.
Casteix told HuffPost that, in her view, there’s nothing the pope can do now to prove that his apologies to sex abuse victims are meaningful.
“It is as if Pope Francis took a trip to Chile, apologized for abuse, prayed for healing, asked for forgiveness, and then got on his plane and said, ‘Just kidding.’”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Democrats say the Republican-drafted classified memo is full of omissions and distortions intended to fuel efforts to run cover for President Trump.
“It’s a distorted view of what the FBI has been doing,” one Hill source told HuffPost. “The majority of the committee is only sharing it so that other members of the caucus can also disparage and discredit the FBI.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the document was a “profoundly misleading set of talking points drafted by Republican staff attacking the FBI” and the bureau’s handling of the investigation.
“Rife with factual inaccuracies and referencing highly classified materials that most of Republican Intelligence Committee members were forced to acknowledge they had never read, this is meant only to give Republican House members a distorted view of the FBI,” Schiff said. “This may help carry White House water, but it is a deep disservice to our law enforcement professionals.”
Is there actually a new bombshell in the report? It’s possible. But the motives and track records of the Republican lawmakers behind the media blitz surrounding the memo suggest there may be less to it than they claim.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who chairs the committee that cooked up the document, had been the public face of the GOP push to undermine the Mueller probe, although he’d taken a backseat as of late. Last year, Nunes was involved in an embarrassing episode in which he briefed President Trump on information he received from a source he wouldn’t name. It later turned out he’d met that person on White House grounds.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) ― who previously called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign (which would allow Trump to replace him with an official who could shut down the Mueller probe) ― said the memo was “absolutely shocking.” But Meadows thinks the entire Russia probe is manufactured hysteria.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who said he was shaking his head when he read the memo and that the “American people deserve the truth,” benefited politically from documents the Russians hacked, and pushed a measure that would kill the Mueller probe.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) ― who has called for reining in the Mueller probe by gutting its financing, and recently went pheasant hunting with Donald Trump Jr. ― said he was sickened by the memo and that it was “worse than Watergate.” He thinks the FBI was part of the #NeverTrump movement and wanted Clinton elected.
If the memo does eventually go public, it won’t end well for Republicans, Susan Hennessey, the executive editor of the legal commentary site Lawfare, argued Friday. “After causing completely unnecessary chaos today, this memo will be released in some redacted [form] in a few weeks and prove to be an utter embarrassment to Nunes personally, the [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence] majority, and frankly to US House of Representatives,” Hennessey predicted.
Some conservatives have urged caution, worrying that Republicans are overhyping a secret document. Republicans “should not oversell” the report, conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt wrote. Over at the conservative blog Hot Air, Ed Morrissey wondered if it was a “set-up for a let-down.” He argued the memo should be released, but warned conservatives to “not go all-in on it until we have a chance to see it for ourselves. In the meantime, remember that most things that seem too good to be true usually are.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a 35-year-old Republican freshman from Florida who recently flew on Air Force One with Trump and is friends with Roger Stone, is one of the believers. Gaetz has called for Mueller to be fired and said on “Hannity” on Thursday that officials might wind up in jail over what he saw in the memo.
HuffPost ran into Gaetz on Capitol Hill on Thursday evening, just a few hours after the congressman appeared on the Fox Business channel above the chyron “I JUST READ A 4-PAGE MEMO THAT THREATENS DEMOCRACY TO ITS CORE.”
“I believe that the contents of that memo need to be made available to the public immediately, and that that is a critical concern in kind of all of the Mueller, Russia, Trump discourse,” Gaetz told HuffPost of the memo, which he said “kind of aggregates” intelligence data.
In the interview with HuffPost, Gaetz ran into a common problem for Republicans who suggest the FBI was too rough on Trump but went too easy on Clinton during the 2016 campaign: the indisputable fact that the FBI’s actions then harmed Clinton. Comey’s conduct during the Clinton investigation was even the underlying justification the Trump administration provided last spring to explain Trump firing Comey. If people in the FBI and the so-called “deep state” were trying to get Clinton elected president, then frankly, they did a terrible job of it.
Surely Gaetz could concede the FBI’s actions ahead of the 2016 election were much more damaging to the Clinton campaign than they were to Trump? “I wouldn’t agree with that characterization,” he replied.
Under Gaetz’s theory, the FBI was hellbent on leaking information to the press to stop Trump from being elected. Gaetz told HuffPost that texts between FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page showed they were “talking about a plan to strategically leak information to embarrass Trump.” As HuffPost recently explained, a deeply flawed story by John Solomon of The Hill has left a lot of people with the inaccurate impression that the text messages show the FBI officials were leaking information to hurt Trump. That’s what Gaetz believes.
“That was explicit in their communications to each other,“ Gaetz claimed.
“How so?” HuffPost asked. Here’s how the conversation went from there:
Gaetz: Well, when they talked about the, um, I think it was the Wall Street Journal article, and they were talking about, oh, was it behind a paywall and did it contain the information that ―
HuffPost: What Wall Street Journal story was that, that was negative against Trump?
Gaetz: Uh, again it’s referenced in their communications back and forth, this was I think in October.
HuffPost: Mhmm. But do you know what story it was?
Gaetz: Yeah, it was all about the contents of the dossier.
HuffPost: The Wall Street Journal story on the 24th was about the contents of the dossier? The dossier wasn’t released until ―
Gaetz: No, it might not have been the one of the 24th. It was the communication that was referenced in the Page-Strzok text messages.
HuffPost: No, I know the one you’re talking about, you said the Wall Street Journal story. I just think the Wall Street Journal story that they were talking about, if you look at it in context, they were talking about a story that was actually negative about the FBI and to Hillary Clinton. It was the story about the then-deputy attorney general McCabe [Ed. note: McCabe is the FBI’s deputy director] who was basically being accused of ― I think you’ll probably recall this [from] the time ...
HuffPost: ... was basically being accused, because his wife had received money, so that was what the story was about.
Gaetz: No, yeah, but I think there was other stuff that was included within that ―
HuffPost: Like what?
Gaetz: Well I don’t have it in front of me.
Gaetz’s theory ― that the FBI provided information for an Oct. 24, 2016, Wall Street Journal story on the Trump dossier ― doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, chiefly because no such story exists. The first story to reference the “dossier” was published by Mother Jones on Oct. 31, 2016, a full week after Strzok-Page exchanged texts about a Wall Street Journal article. The Mother Jones story only came out after Comey sent a letter about the Clinton investigation on Oct. 28 that set off a media frenzy Clinton has partially blamed for her loss.
But the secret GOP memo gave Gaetz a convenient pivot point: the suggestion that there’s something, a bombshell, that he can’t reveal publicly. And it totally supports the theory he’s been pushing this whole time.
“I can say that if this memo become available to the public, many of the concerns that have been raised by members of the Judiciary Committee will be highlighted,” Gaetz said.
Later on Friday, all nine Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee issued a statement calling the memo a “misleading set of talking points attacking the FBI.” Since the documents that the GOP-prepared memo cites are highly classified, the Democrats said, they will not be made public and it will become “impossible for the few Members who have seen the documents to explain the flaws and misstatements contained within the talking points” without disclosing sources and methods.
“This is by design,” they said. “Not surprisingly, the GOP campaign to attack the FBI now has been joined by the same forces that made common cause during the Trump campaign — Wikileaks, Julian Assange and a multitude of online Russian bots are now involved in promoting this effort. It should be seen for what it so plainly is: yet another desperate and flailing attempt to undermine Special Counsel Mueller and the FBI, regardless of the profound damage it does to our democratic institutions and national security agencies.”
Ryan Reilly is HuffPost’s senior justice reporter, covering criminal justice, federal law enforcement and legal affairs. Have a tip? Reach him at email@example.com or on Signal at 202-527-9261.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.