Pennsylvania Representative Patrick Meehan has been removed from his position on the House Ethics Committee after reportedly using taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment case privately last year.
According to the original story published in the New York Times, Meehan, who is married, made unwanted advances toward a former aide who was decades younger. When the woman, who remains anonymous, did not return his interest and instead became involved in a serious relationship outside the office, Meehan declared his feelings for her in person before following up with a handwritten letter. Meehan reportedly became hostile as a result of his unrequited feelings. The office dynamic became unbearable to the former aide who filed a formal complaint before working from home and eventually leaving her job.
Later, an undisclosed amount from Meehan's congressional office fund was paid as part of a confidential agreement reached between the former aide and the congressman's office.
Tasked with finding a solution as part of the House Ethics Committee, the Republican representative had taken on a leading role in combating sexual harassment.
Meehan's communications director, John Elizandro, issued a statement claiming that the congressman denies the accusation and "has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism." Since the news broke, he has been removed from his position on the committee. According to The Cut, he will also have to repay the taxpayer money he used to fund the settlement.
Additionally, Meehan asked that the confidentiality agreement that was part of the private settlement be waived so that the former aide could speak to the allegations publicly "to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts." The former aide's lawyer, Alexis Ronickher described the congressman's statement as "a desperate effort to preserve his career," adding that it was he who first demanded confidentiality. Ronickher believes Meehan waived that part of the agreement knowing full-well that the former aide would not agree as she "prizes her privacy above all else."
Favoring the protection of the harasser, previous codes of conduct for Congress have done more to silence those wanting to come forward than help them. In recent months, several lawmakers have left office or retired over similar claims of sexual harassment.