WASHINGTON ― Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) will not seek re-election to Congress following reports that he used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint from a former staffer, whom he fired after she confronted him about his behavior.
Farenthold announced his decision not to run for re-election in 2018, but to serve out the remaining year of his term, in a video on his campaign’s Facebook page posted Thursday. He continued to claim that the sexual harassment allegations “are false” and said they had become “a political distraction.”
The congressman, who had faced pressure from a handful of GOP colleagues to resign, also apologized for creating an “unprofessional work environment” and vowed to make changes in his office.
“I had no idea how to run a congressional office,” the four-term representative said. “As a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters on Thursday that he had met with Farenthold the previous day.
“I think he has made the right decision to retire,” Ryan said at his weekly press conference. He would not elaborate further, citing an ongoing ethics investigation into the congressman’s behavior.
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, released a statement acknowledging Farenthold’s retirement.
“I respect Congressman Farenthold’s decision and thank him for his service,” Stivers said. “Congress must work harder to hold ourselves to a higher standard, which is why the House took action to ensure this body is a safe and constructive workplace for all.”
Farenthold’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from HuffPost.
In December, Politico reported that Farenthold took $84,000 from a little known congressional account to pay Lauren Greene, his former communications director, after she alleged in 2014 that Farenthold sexually harassed her and created a toxic work environment.
Following that report, the House Ethics Committee launched a new investigation into Greene’s allegation, as well as other “inappropriate statements to other members of his [Farenthold’s] official staff.”
Farenthold would not confirm that the $84,000 payment, from a Treasury Department fund used to settle workplace complaints against lawmakers, was from his office.
“While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” he said in a statement.
According to Greene’s original complaint, Farenthold allegedly sexually harassed her, and another Farenthold aide told Greene that the lawmaker described having “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her.
Greene also detailed other inappropriate behavior that she and other Farenthold staffers witnessed.
“Farenthold regularly drank to excess, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on ‘red head patrol to keep him out of trouble,’” her complaint said. “On one occasion, prior to February 2014, during a staff meeting at which [Greene] was in attendance, Farenthold disclosed that a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome.’”
The cascade of events has forced Capitol Hill lawmakers to evaluate their procedures for addressing internal sexual misconduct claims. Both the House and Senate have now mandated sexual harassment training. Legislators have also introduced legislation to make the system used to report incidents more transparent and fairer for the accuser, as well as a bill that would ban the use of taxpayer money to pay for settlements.
Farenthold was first elected in 2010, part of a wave of conservative tea party lawmakers that year.
This article has been updated with comments from Rep. Farenthold’s video announcement, Speaker Ryan and Rep. Stivers.