Blake Farenthold vows to repay taxpayers in sexual harassment case

Tuesday, 05 December 2017, 03:09:07 AM. WASHINGTON - Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who used $84,000 in taxpayer dollars to settle with a former aide who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014, says he's going to pay back the money.

WASHINGTON – Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who used $84,000 in taxpayer dollars to settle with a former aide who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014, says he's going to pay back the money.

Farenthold told a Corpus Christi television station Monday that he plans to take out a personal loan to repay the government.

The four-term Congressmen, who has long denied any wrongdoing, said he will give a check to House Speaker Paul Ryan or other congressional leaders this week.

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"I want to be clear that I didn't do anything wrong, but I also don't want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this," he said.

He also told "6 Investigates" that he was not given a choice about using his own money in the 2015 confidential settlement with his former spokeswoman, Lauren Greene.

The scion of a wealthy and politically-connected family, Farenthold's net worth was estimated in 2015 at more than $5.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which ranked him the 72nd wealthiest lawmaker in the House.

Farenthold is the first member of Congress now known to have benefited from a little-known Treasury Department fund created to cover workplace settlements involving lawmakers.

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The congressional Office of Compliance (OOC) disclosed Friday that the fund paid for only one sexual harassment settlement involving a House lawmaker's office in the past five years, but did not name Farenthold.

In a statement Friday, Farenthold declined to confirm or deny that the claim had involved him. But he confirmed the payment in his interview Monday.

"I wish I could have said something Friday," he told the television station. "I went to the House lawyer and said, 'What can I say?, and they said 'Nothing ... Here's the statement that you can make.'"

Greene, then 27, alleged in a federal court suit that Farenthold made sexually suggestive remarks and, along with top staff members, created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her when she complained. She did not allege any inappropriate sexual contact.

The settlement came after the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent watchdog agency, cleared Farenthold, concluding that there was no "substantial reason" to believe the allegations against the Corpus Christi Republican.

Though Farenthold was cleared at the time, the House Ethics Committee indicated Friday that it will review all formal claims of sexual harassment and other misconduct involving members and employees of the House.

Farenthold alleged that Greene was fired for "poor performance," though the details of the settlement remained undisclosed. At the time, he was represented by lawyers for the House Employment Counsel.

He said he hired his own attorney at personal expense over the weekend to review the 2015 settlement, and was advised that he can talk about the "process."

The Congressional Accountability Act was created in 1995 to give Congressional employees a way to pursue harassment claims and secure awards for settlements. In all, it has paid out more than $17 million over the past two decades for 264 settlement cases, including sexual harassment cases.

Farenthold criticized the agency for silencing accusers and lawmakers while forcing taxpayers to pay the costs.

"The process is broken," he said, according on tape to KRISTV.com.

He said he will now push for more transparency.

His is by no means the only office to have used public funds to pay for a harassment claim. Detroit Michigan John Conyers Jr. has faced multiple allegations of harassment in recent weeks, and in at least one case is reported to have used his office budgets to settle a complaint in an apparent effort to hide it from public view.

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