Farenthold ex-staffer alleges culture of harassment, bullying and lewd comments

A former senior aide to Rep. Blake Farenthold who has come forward to the House Ethics Committee described the Texas Republican's behavior as sexually demeaning and abusive in an interview with CNN. 

Michael Rekola worked as Farenthold's communications director in 2015, and in that time he said the congressman's sexual jokes and treatment of aides amounted to bullying that led him to treat medical and psychological help. 

The accusations from Rekola come as the House Ethics Committee has launched a probe into Farenthold's alleged behavior. That investigation launched after a report that former Farenthold communications director Lauren Greene received an $84,000 taxpayer-funded settlement after suing the congressman in 2014 for sexual harassment, gender discrimination and a hostile work environment. 

Rekola's description appears to paint a hostile work environment. The former staffer told CNN the congressman regularly described aides with an expletive and would break into screaming fits of rage, slamming his fists on desks. 

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Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, at a hearing on Capitol Hill on March 19, 2013.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Rekola also told CNN that in July 2015, just before he was about to get married, Farenthold — within earshot of other aides in his office — told Rekola, "better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle -- it will be the last time." The congressman then allegedly went on to joke about whether Rekola's then-fiancee could wear white on her wedding day, a reference, the former staffer said, as to whether she had sex before marriage. Rekola said that comment left him "disgusted," and he gave his two-weeks notice shortly after returning from his wedding. 

Another former Farenthold aide, Elizabeth Peace, also confirmed to CNN that the congressman often called aides an expletive and was in the office when Farenthold allegedly made the comments about Rekola's now-wife. 

Farenthold acknowledged to CNN that he used that phrase, but that was "in jest, not in anger."

"In hindsight, I admit it wasn't appropriate," Farenthold told CNN.

CBS News has reached out to Farenthold's office for comment. 

So far, few in Congress have called for Farenthold's resignation.

But the allegations against Farenthold come amid an avalanche of harassment allegations — and resignations — in Congress. 

Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers recently resigned over sexual harassment allegations, Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken has announced he will resign over sexual harassment claims, and Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks resigned after a report that he offered a former aide $5 million to carry his child. 

  • Kathryn Watson

    Kathryn Watson is a politics reporter for CBS News Digital.