Meehan called harassment accuser his ‘soul mate’
Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) said Tuesday that he is still running for reelection even as he acknowledged "affection" for a former aide whom he considered a "soul mate" — before using taxpayer money to pay off a sexual harassment claim she later pursued against him.
Meehan’s open discussion of his feelings toward his former aide, made in interviews with local media outlets, comes days after his spokesman denied that any harassment occurred and said his conduct towards all aides displayed "the utmost respect and professionalism."
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Meehan, who is married with three children, acknowledged to the Philadelphia Inquirer that his feelings for the woman were progressing "in a way in which I was struggling to make sure that I would never put that into our professional relationship."
Meehan’s office also showed the newspaper and other local media outlets a letter the fourth-term Republican wrote to his then-aide on May 4, the day that the House voted to repeal Obamacare.
"As I walked this evening and glanced over at the White House I smiled at the irony that on a day that I had to say ‘no’ to the President and to the Speaker of the House, I got to say ‘yes’ to you," Meehan wrote to the woman.
Meehan is already under investigation by the House Ethics Committee over his conduct towards his former aide, as well as his use of his personal office budget to pay the settlement. He remains a top Democratic target in the midterm elections, running for reelection in a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.
Capitol Hill’s Office of Compliance maintains a taxpayer-funded account that lawmakers can presently use to settle harassment claims. But the ethics panel has had no clear guidance on whether personal office budgets can be used, as former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) did in 2015 before he was forced to resign last year.
Meehan’s comments may open the door to legal action from his former aide, given that their settlement was subject to a confidentiality agreement. Alexis Ronickher, the attorney representing the former aide, said in an interview Tuesday that her client is weighing whether to respond in court.
"My client continues to want and demand the confidentiality that both parties agreed to," Ronickher said in an interview. "These public statements are a gross breach of the agreement. She is exploring her legal options for how to pursue a remedy for this."
Ronickher added that, for now, Meehan’s former aide "is seeking to assist the ethics committee in their investigation."
Meehan’s office also shared with the Inquirer text messages exchanged with his former aide in which she had offered to help him "bear the stress and tension." He said that he asked her to ice cream, which he had perceived as an opening to discuss the nature of his feelings for her, and recalled telling her that "I was not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship, but we were soul mates."
He described his settlement with the woman as a "severance," according to the Inquirer. Conyers’ settlement with his former aide who alleged harassment was also structured as a severance payment, made confidentially after consultations with the Office of House Employment Counsel.
The former aide pursued a harassment claim against Meehan, first reported Saturday by The New York Times, after she believed he had become jealous of a relationship she began last spring with another man who did not work in the office. Meehan admitted to the Inquirer that he became "rough" on the job with the woman, linking it to the intense political climate that surrounded last year’s Obamacare repeal vote.
“Sometimes I have the tendency to lash out to others on the staff," Meehan told the Inquirer, adding that "you go hardest on the ones that you care the most about."
Two Democrats vying for the nomination to challenge Meehan called for his resignation after Saturday’s initial news of his harassment settlement. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also told Meehan to repay the amount of the taxpayer-funded settlement and announced that the fourth-term Pennsylvanian would leave the Ethics Committeee.
Ryan’s repayment request to Meehan effectively aligns the House GOP with the new reforms included in a bipartisan harassment overhaul bill that the chamber is expected to pass as soon as next week.
January 23, 2018 at 04:00PMNo tags for this post.