While a federal lawsuit continues, the House Ethics Committee announced today it will not conduct a full-blown investigation into allegations that Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings sexually harassed a former employee and retaliated against her after she complained about it.
Reps. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., the chairman and ranking member of the Ethics Committee, respectively, issued a joint statement today, writing that while they will not impanel an investigative subcommittee, they will continue to review the case and gather additional information necessary to complete the review. The lawmakers have already once extended the committee's review of the matter.
In a detailed statement on his website, Hastings took today's news as a win, and emphasized that he "unequivocally" denies the allegations, which he called "completely false."
"I never had a romantic or sexual interest in [the accuser], nor did I ever express or otherwise suggest that I had any such interest," Hastings wrote. "I look forward to the Committee on Ethics' review of these bogus charges, and am confident that it will conclude, as have the General Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives, Counsel of the House Employment Counsel, and the United States Justice Department, that the claims are false."
The alleged harassment and retaliation began in 2008, according a public interest group that investigates government corruption, Judicial Watch, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Winsome Packer.
Parker, a female aide who says she was repeatedly subjected to "unwelcome sexual advances," "unwelcome touching" and retaliation, worked with Hastings when he was chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission.
Packer experienced "insomnia, anxiety, depression, high-blood pressure, and developed symptoms of coronary artery disease," as a direct result of the alleged sexual harassment, according to Judicial Watch, and at one point symptoms became so severe that she collapsed and was rushed to the emergency room. Packer was subsequently prescribed medication and is under the care of a physician because of the severity of her heart problems.
Hastings has repeatedly denied the accusations, calling them "ludicrous" and a "lie." When news broke last spring that a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, he vowed to be vindicated.
"I have never sexually harassed anyone," Hastings, a 10-term Democrat from Florida, said in a statement last March. "In fact, I am insulted that these ludicrous allegations are being made against me. When all the facts are known in this case, the prevailing sentiment will be, 'How bizarre!'"
The Office of Congressional Ethics, voted last September for the Ethics Committee to conduct a probe of Hastings. Further review of the ethics referral does not necessarily indicate the judgment of the committee whether any violation has actually occurred.
Going forward, the committee might consider any information in its possession indicating that Hastings might have committed a violation of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct applicable to the conduct of such member, officer or employee in the performance of the duties or the discharge of the responsibilities of such individual. Bonner and Sanchez might jointly gather additional information until the matter is resolved.
Hastings, 75, a senior member of the House Rules Committee and the ranking member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, declared his innocence and expressed confidence that he would be cleared.
"I will win this lawsuit. That is a certainty," Hastings predicted last spring. "In a race with a lie, the truth always wins. And when the truth comes to light and the personal agendas of my accusers are exposed, I will be vindicated."
Hastings, a former federal judge, was impeached by the House and, after a trial, removed from the bench by the Senate in 1989 for bribery and perjury. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992.