Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan spoke out Tuesday about recent reports of a sexual harassment settlement reached with a former female staffer. In an interview with the Inquirer and Daily News, Meehan said he and a former aide were "soul mates" as he tried to defend himself against her sexual harassment claim.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Meehan's former aide had accused him of making unwanted advances toward her, a claim he then apparently settled using taxpayer money. Sources who worked in Meehan's office said the female staffer felt the office environment had become "untenable" after she got involved in a serious relationship with someone, which prompted her boss to confess his romantic feelings for her.
Meehan sent a letter and texts to the aide, calling her "a complete partner to me." Beyond saying they were soul mates, Meehan also said he was hurt by the fact she was upset with the letter, claiming she "invited" his behavior. "That I would find later that that was not something that she was comfortable with, really hurts me," he said. "This was a person who specifically invited communication with me so that she would be able to have the ability to be there for me."
Meehan's communications director has denied the allegations of harassment, saying Meehan "has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism." Meehan also insists that the several thousands of dollars paid with taxpayer money to the former aide represent severance pay, and not a harassment settlement.
A 62-year-old married man with three children, Meehan said he never intended to pursue a romantic relationship with his former staffer. However, according to other staffers, once she announced that she had become serious with another man, Meehan started treating her differently.
In fact, in his interview with the Inquirer and Daily News, Meehan does not dispute the basic outline of the NYT story — including the claim that the congressman grew "hostile" towards his female staffer after she rebuffed his romantic overtures.
House Speaker Paul Ryan took Meehan off the House Ethics Committee following the New York Times report. Before his removal, Meehan had been helping to lead several investigations into a handful of other congressmen accused of sexual harassment.
The recently publicized allegations against Meehan come amidst a newly revitalized interest in how sexual harassment and assault claims are handled, including on Capitol Hill. And the fallout that faced Meehan's former aide will likely be used to further the case of those calling for reform in D.C.
According to sources, the female aide followed the suggested protocol for congressional staffers who had experienced sexual harassment. She filed her claim with the Office of Compliance, and completed its mandatory counseling and mediation requirements.
However, the experience left her "traumatized." She faced isolation from her former colleagues, and eventually quit her job altogether. And even after she left D.C., the former staffer was left with legal bills that represented a significant financial burden. She temporarily moved in with her parents before relocating overseas.
Meehan had the benefit of four representatives — two office officials and two lawyers provided by the House's office of employment counsel. He also had taxpayer money available to him for settlement payments, a policy that many reform advocates have targeted for the chopping block.
The trajectory of Meehan's former female aide is a familiar one. Marion Brown, the first woman to file a sexual harassment complaint against former Rep. John Conyers, said that when she tried to find another job on Capitol Hill, she discovered she'd been "blackballed." Many see such unofficial repercussions as indicative of a culture in Washington that is bent on protecting its own at the expense of sexual harassment victims.
Meehan already faced a difficult reelection bid in 2018, with Democrats eyeing his suburban Pennsylvania seat as a potential pickup. But to date, the congressman has shown no sign of stepping down.