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Report: Congressman leading charge against assault settles own misconduct case

Sexual harassment in Congress

A Pennsylvania congressman who has taken the charge in fighting against cases of sexual assault on Capitol Hill has been removed from his Ethics Committee post, after the New York Times reported he used taxpayer dollars to settle his own misconduct case.

The Times, citing several people familiar with the settlement and situation, reports that Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pennsylvania, settled a misconduct complaint after a former aide had accused him of making "unwanted romantic overtures."

Meehan, 62, had reportedly expressed an interest in the young woman's life and the aide had regarded the congressman as a sort of "father figure," according to those close to the office and those who the woman had discussed her time in the office with.

It was when the woman had entered a serious relationship with someone outside of her office, Meehan reportedly professed his romantic interests in her, both in person and in a letter. Those familiar with the aide's experience say Meehan then grew hostile when the aide did not reciprocate.

The aide then filed a formal complaint with the congressional Office of Compliance after her time in the office grew increasingly aggressive and toxic. The Times writes that the aide followed the standard practice as part of the complaint process, but received pushback from Meehan's office and congressional lawyers who alleged the aide had "misinterpreted" Meehan's advances. 

She later reached a confidential agreement with Meehan's office which included a settlement for an undisclosed amount.

His removal from the Ethics Committee was sift. Ryan's spokesperson announced it within hours. 

"Speaker Ryan takes the allegations against Mr. Meehan very seriously," said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Ryan. "The speaker is committed to rooting out sexual misconduct in the House and providing victims the resources they need. The House is set to pass major bipartisan reform to the way the House handles claims of sexual harassment, and the speaker will apply these new standards to the allegations made against Mr. Meehan. Though Mr. Meehan has denied the allegations, they must be fully and immediately investigated by the House Ethics Committee. Following a conversation with the Speaker today, Mr. Meehan will immediately submit himself to the Ethics Committee for review. The new reforms going into place bar the use of taxpayer money to pay settlements, and so the speaker has also told Mr. Meehan that he should repay whatever taxpayer funds were used to settle this case. In addition, Mr. Meehan is being immediately removed from the House Ethics Committee. Any further action or comment will come pending a full and prompt investigation by the Ethics Committee." 

Revelations of the complaint follows that of a wave of similar allegations leveled against members of congress including Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, among several others at the tail end of 2017. The increasing allegations spawned new calls for stronger legislation on Capitol Hill that sought to prevent and respond to sexual harassment in Congress and to change the arduous system in place for reporting incidents

But Meehan's case is particularly of note due to the Republican being a well-known advocate on behalf of victims of sexual assault. 

Meehan worked with assault victims as a prosecutor in Pennsylvania and continued that work in Congress, being a proclaimed "leader in the effort to protect the victims of brutal crimes such as sexual assault," according to his congressional website.

In July of 2016, Meehan had introduced the "Duty to Report Sexual Assault Act of 2016" to require owners and employees of massage parlors to report allegations of sexual assault to law enforcement. 

"Reporting alleged assault will help victims understand their rights, like pursuing an investigation and pressing charges, and the resources available, such as local sexual assault programs," Meehan had said in a press release on the legislation.  

"Claims of sexual abuse should be taken seriously," Meehan continued. "They should be investigated and pursued in accordance with the victim's wishes."

Meehan also endorsed the Violence Against Women Act and took part in bipartisan working groups to "combat sexual violence on college campuses and in the military."

Meehan is also a member on the House Ethics Committee, the same panel which has initiated investigations into sexual misconduct claims against at least four members of congress in 2017.

The Times notes that the exact amount of the settlement between Meehan and the aide "could not be determined," due to the fact that Meehan's office paid it from a congressional office fund, allowing for payments to be disguised as salary and reported months after they were made. Those familiar with the payout said it was thousands of dollars.

In a statement to CBS News, Meehnan denied the allegations against and said that he has "always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism."

Meehan said that investigatory process, at the guidcance of the House Counsel and hte Ethics Committeee, was handled "ethically and appropriately."

"At Congressman Meehan's request, the congressional attorneys handling the case have asked the complainant's counsel to release all parties from the confidentiality requirements of the agreement to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts. The Congressman is hopeful that they will agree to this request for full transparency," the statement added. 

The statement went on, saying that Meehan continues to call for "real reform to the process for 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."

"The public to whom elected officials are answerable must be provided with a true sense of the facts and circumstances involved," he added.