Reflecting on her 2019 scandal, former Rep. Katie Hill says she still hasn't 'fully recovered'

"Finding a way to move forward is something that is really important," she said.

February 21, 2020, 11:50 AM

Former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill joined the hosts of ABC's "The View" on Friday, opening up about the scandal that led to her resignation from Congress, saying she still hasn't "fully recovered from it."

"It was an incredibly difficult thing to reconcile, to recover from -- and I would not say that I have fully recovered from it," Hill told the hosts. "But finding a way to move forward is something that is really important to me."

The former California lawmaker joined the hosts only four months after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation against her for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a male congressional staffer -- an allegation she again denied to ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview Thursday on "Good Morning America."

The alleged relationship would have been in violation of House rules. Following the #MeToo movement, Congress adopted a rule in February 2018 that barred relationships between members and any subordinates.

She has also acknowledged and apologized for having a sexual relationship with a female campaign staffer when she was running for Congress. While having this relationship wasn't against any congressional rules, she told the hosts "it was wrong."

PHOTO: Katie Hill appears on "The View," Feb. 21, 2020.
Katie Hill appears on "The View," Feb. 21, 2020.
ABC News

"A relationship formed that shouldn't have formed," she said. "And I am very well aware of that. And I - I believe I have taken full accountability by stepping down."

The scandal that further sensationalized Hill's political career came when nude photos of her were leaked on a conservative website without her consent. She told the hosts she didn't even know they were taken.

Hill has repeatedly blamed conservative operatives and her estranged husband for leaking these photos in order to hurt her, an act that would be against California's Penal Code 647(j)(4), which outlaws distributing intimate images that would knowingly cause harm.

Her accusations aren't unfounded. Some of the authors of the original articles, which published these intimate photos, were former campaign advisors to Steve Knight, the former congressman who Hill beat in her 2018 run for Congress.

"I also, honestly, didn't think that my husband would do that," Hill said. "If not for me, than for the other person involved. So, yeah, he did."

Heslep's lawyers told ABC News that he is asking for privacy during this moment.

"Ms. Hill has made no allegations of abuse in her petition for dissolution," Heslep's lawyers told ABC News following the accusations. "Mr. Heslep denies any allegations of abuse or wrongdoing outright. The parties are currently in the process of negotiating an amicable settlement."

PHOTO: Katie Hill is shown in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.
Katie Hill is shown in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.
ABC News

When asked by the hosts how she felt in the aftermath of the scandal, Hill said it was a difficult thing to go through.

"It is very difficult to describe," she said, later adding "you feel like something has been fundamentally ripped away that you'll never get back."

As one of the first openly bisexual members of Congress, Hill believes that her sexuality was sensationalized when the news broke.

"There's still a lot that people don't understand about bisexuality," Hill told the hosts, saying she even had to explain the term to LGBTQ allies.

In the past, Hill has called the intimate photos an act of "revenge porn," so host Sunny Hostin asked why her husband would even want revenge.

"I had tried to leave in October [of 2018]," she said. "Our relationship had gotten increasingly toxic. I was afraid for my safety, and I left in October of -- right before the election. And you know how bad it has to be for me to, like, plan an exit right before the election."

She told the hosts that her estranged husband had a melt down after she left, and that he then told her -- and many others -- that if she left for good he would "ruin" her. She ended up moving back in with Heslep, explaining to the hosts that she did this because she "couldn't risk it." Hill said she ultimately knew she couldn't stay with him forever.

"When I finally did [leave], he made good on his promise," Hill said.

Less than a week after the House committee opened the investigation and the nude photos were circulated, Hill resigned.

"This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community, and our country," she tweeted following her resignation.

Hill told the hosts she stepped down because she realized the impact she was having on her colleagues.

"I did not want to be a distraction during the time we were coming up on -- on the impeachment inquiry vote," she said.

At the time, the House was hoping to pass an impeachment inquiry resolution into President Donald Trump. One of Hill's last actions as a member of Congress was voting in favor of that resolution.

Before Hill gave her final speech on the House floor, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters "Hill's decision to resign is her decision," calling what happened to Hill "cyber exploitation." Pelosi said she didn't want Hill to resign, even calling Hill an "outstanding young public servant."

PHOTO: Katie Hill is shown in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.
Katie Hill is shown in an interview with George Stephanopoulos.
ABC News

While Hill understood Pelosi's position, she ultimately couldn't follow the Speaker's suggestion. Telling the hosts that while in the past members of Congress would ride it out and let "the voters decide," she didn't want to be "used as a tool." She was afraid that other freshman Democrats from swing districts would have to defend or condemn her actions, and she didn't want to put them in that position.

As the former vice chair of the House Oversight Committee, she was considered a rising star as a leader among the freshman Democrats. Now her seat, representing California's 25th District, is being fought over by at least 15 candidates.

But Hill said she has started a new chapter of her life. On Thursday, she launched a group -- called HER Time -- supporting female candidates running for political office.

"I need to make sure that my experience doesn't deter other young women from running for office – that, that something positive has to come out of this," she said. "And so I started a PAC."