Why Rep. Patrick Meehan's Sexual Misconduct Settlement Is Especially Significant
According to a report published in The New York Times on Saturday, GOP House Rep. Patrick Meehan settled a sexual misconduct case using taxpayer funds last year, paying out thousands to resolve a complaint by a former staffer. In recent months, the Pennsylvania Republican, who is on the House Ethics Committee had taken a leadership role in attempt to prevent sexual harassment in Congress. Meehan has denied that he harassed his former aide.
Meehan has already been stripped of his seat on the House ethics committee, despite his continuing denial of any wrongdoing. The reports are drawing intense scrutiny, thanks to the fact that Meehan was recently involved in trying to reform and prevent the very sort of behavior of which he's now accused.
As a member of the ethics committee, Meehan was one of the representatives tasked with investigating incidents and allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct on Capitol Hill, and as The New York Times notes, he's worked as a member of a bipartisan task force on preventing sexual harassment and violence. He's currently serving his fourth term in the House, having been reelected in 2016, and his seat will be up in the 2018 midterm elections.
According to The New York Times, the aide viewed Meehan as a sort of father figure. But after she began seriously dating someone, Meehan reportedly confessed his romantic desires for her, both verbally and in writing, and things subsequently got tense in the workplace. The Times reports that the aide ultimately filed a complaint and eventually quite the job. She was allegedly paid an undisclosed amount of money from Meehan's congressional fund as a settlement.
The details of the allegations against Meehan read like a fairly textbook case of workplace sexual harassment, although again, he denies that he engaged ins sexual harassment. In a statement to The New York Times, Meehan's congressional office says that the congressman has "always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost professionalism and respect," and that he wants the confidentiality agreement from the settlement to be waived.
The statement also insisted that Meehan "believes there must be real reform to the process of resolving complaints, so that those who are truly wronged are given a fair forum to be heard and vindicated, and those accused are provided with an ability to respond to baseless accusations."
An attorney for the former aide who filed the complaint, Alexis Ronickher, also provided the Times with a statement in response, accusing the congressman of trying to strip their client of her anonymity.
"In a desperate attempt to preserve his career, Rep. Meehan has now asked my client to waive confidentiality so he can deny well-founded allegations knowing full well that his former staffer prizes her privacy above all else," the statement reads. "Mr. Meehan demanded confidentiality to resolve the matter, presumably so that the public would never know he entered into a settlement of a serious sexual harassment claim."
The former aide's attorney flatly refused the notion of waiving confidentiality, and warned that there would be legal action taken if Meehan "violates the confidentiality strictures he insisted upon and he agreed to."
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has reportedly told Meehan to repay the taxpayer money he reportedly used to settle the case, and he'll face an investigation by the House ethics committee ― the very committee he himself sat on just one day ago. In recent months, multiple members of Congress have come under scrutiny for varying forms of sexual misconduct, with Democrats John Conyers and Al Franken having both resigned, as well as Republican Trent Franks.