WASHINGTON -- A Democratic congresswoman forced to abandon her re-election campaign amid criticism over her handling of an alleged incident of sexual harassment could have done more to protect her staff but didn't violate congressional rules, according to an ethics report released Thursday.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., an outspoken #MeToo advocate, announced she wouldn't run for re-election in April, just days after revelations that she kept a high-ranking aide on staff for three months after learning of allegations that he sexually harassed and physically abused a female staffer.
The House Committee on Ethics concluded that Esty "could have acted more promptly and enlisted more appropriate resources to investigate." But "falling short of ideal practices, however, is not the same as violating House Rules."
The committee recommended no further action against Esty.
Esty was the only female member of Congress whose career was derailed by a sexual harassment allegation. At least six of her colleagues on Capitol Hill were forced to resign because of sexual misconduct allegations.
According to the report, Esty learned a female staffer claimed she had been harassed and threatened by then-chief of staff Tony Baker in May 2016. Esty didn't fire or suspend Baker but instead launched an investigation into his behavior, enlisting a former staffer to conduct the review. Three months later, Esty and Baker "entered into an agreement ... which separated him from her," the report says.
A spokesman for Baker had previously said Baker denied some of the allegations.
The report concludes that Esty's investigation took too long and that it was inappropriate to ask a personal associate to look into the incident.
"Representative Esty's investigation took longer than necessary, and her selection of her close allies, who had significant pre-existing relationships" with Baker and the female staffer, was "a poor choice."
But the report also notes Esty acknowledged mistakes, admitting she didn't follow best practices. The committee found that Esty fully cooperated with the investigation, and it commended her for taking remedial steps since Baker's firing, "which appear to have created a much improved environment."
Esty will retire at the end of this Congress.