Texas Congressman Hedges on Promise to Repay Taxpayers

HOUSTON (CN) – Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold has backed off his pledge to take out a personal loan to repay an $84,000 taxpayer-funded settlement paid to a former staffer who accused him of sexual harassment.

The fallout came quickly for Farenthold amid an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations women have made against powerful men since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October last year.

Farenthold, 56, announced on Dec. 14 he will not seek re-election in 2018 after Politico reported that he had paid the former spokeswoman of his congressional office, Lauren Greene, $84,000 from a congressional account to settle hostile workplace claims she made in a federal lawsuit in 2014.

The four-term Republican, an attorney and former conservative talk radio host, represents a district that includes his hometown of Corpus Christi. He had a net worth of more than $5 million in 2015, according to The Hill.

Shortly after news of the payment broke, Farenthold told a Texas TV station he would take out a personal loan to repay taxpayers and give the check to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But Farenthold’s spokeswoman told The Hill on Wednesday that Farenthold, on his lawyer’s advice, is not yet ready to cut a check.

She said Farenthold is waiting to see what changes Congress will make to its sexual harassment policies before he pays back the settlement.

Greene claimed in her lawsuit that Farenthold told her in early 2014 that he was estranged from his wife and hadn’t had sex with her in years. The complaint claims that Farenthold told Greene’s female colleague, who relayed the comments to Greene, that he had sexual fantasies and wet dreams about Greene.

“Farenthold would compliment plaintiff’s appearance, or comment on her wardrobe, and then joke that he hoped his compliments did not constitute sexual harassment,” according to the lawsuit, which Greene filed after Farenthold fired her.

A court-appointed mediator worked out the settlement, which was paid from an account managed by the Office of Compliance. The office handles in-house sexual harassment and other workplace dispute claims made by congressional staffers.

The settlement reportedly included a confidentiality agreement that barred Greene and Farenthold from talking about it, and a clause stating that both parties denied liability.

News reports about the settlement prompted an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into alleged inappropriate comments Farenthold made to his staff, and whether he lied to the ethics committee.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is working on legislation to revise Congress’s sexual harassment policies, and will push to make lawmakers personally liable for such settlements, according to The Hill.

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