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Republican axed from ethics body after report on alleged sexual misconduct

The congressman has been accused by a former aide of making ‘unwanted romantic overtures’.
The congressman has been accused by a former aide of making ‘unwanted romantic overtures’. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

A Republican congressman on Saturday denied an allegation of sexual misconduct made in a report that said he used taxpayer dollars to settle a complaint from a female staffer about inappropriate sexual behaviour.

He was nonetheless removed from the House ethics committee by the speaker, Paul Ryan, made subject to investigation by his former panel and told to repay “whatever taxpayer funds were used”.

The New York Times reported that the Pennsylvania representative Patrick Meehan, a 62-year-old married father of three, was accused last year by “a former aide” of making “unwanted romantic overtures”.

In an email to the Guardian, a spokesman said Meehan denied the claim. The spokesman added: “Throughout his career [Meehan] has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism.”

Citing interviews with “10 people, including friends and former colleagues of the former aide and others who worked around the office”, the Times said Meehan’s former aide reached a confidential agreement that included an undisclosed payment from the representative’s congressional office fund.

The Times did not name the aide, who it said was left “feeling as if the settlement was not worth the emotional distress the process had caused”.

As a member of the House ethics committee, Meehan has been involved in investigations into numerous recent cases of alleged sexual harassment and confidential settlements involving members of the House.

The Michigan Democrat John Conyers and Arizona Republican Trent Franks resigned. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican, and the Nevada Democrat Ruben Kihuen have said they will step down in November.

A spokeswoman for Ryan confirmed that Meehan would step down.

“Speaker Ryan takes the allegations against Mr Meehan very seriously,” said AshLee Strong in an email. “The speaker is committed to rooting out sexual misconduct in the House and providing victims the resources they need.”

Strong added: “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.”

Meehan was first elected in 2010. He has long been considered a top Democratic target in the forthcoming midterms as his suburban Philadelphia district was won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The Times also wrote of Meehan’s record in Congress that “he has sponsored legislation mandating the reporting of sexual violence, and he is a member of a bipartisan congressional task force to end such violence”.

Meehan’s spokesman said: “In this case, the employee, represented by counsel, made certain assertions of inappropriate behavior which were investigated … every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately.”

He added: “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.”

Ryan’s spokeswoman added that “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”.

This article titled "Republican axed from ethics body after report on alleged sexual misconduct" was written by Martin Pengelly and Ben Jacobs, for on Saturday 20 January 2018 11.08pm

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