Rep. Alcee Hastings admits drinking with staffers of a commission he served on and making sexually loaded comments, but was it sexual harassment? Or is the lawsuit and related ethics inquiry into the Florida Democrat’s behavior fallout from a soured crush that became fodder for a novel?
Although the House Ethics Committee announced today that it will continue reviewing the allegations without forming an investigative subcommittee, which could be the committee’s final public statement on the matter unless it decides to hold an ethics trial, a report compiled by the independent Office of Congressional Ethics shows that accounts given by Hastings and his accuser, Winsome Packer, sometimes coincide.
Packer worked at the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe; Hastings was once its chairman.
Hastings did tell Packer during a trip to Vienna, Austria, that he had trouble falling asleep after having sex — but he also could have made the comment in the presence of others, according to a summary of an interview OCE investigators conducted with the lawmaker.
Hastings also allowed that he had wondered aloud during bar-time chitchat how Members — especially females — can wear the same underwear for an entire day on the Hill but added he did not specifically comment on the matter to Packer.
“He stated that during this conversation people were drinking and ‘one-upping’ each other and that his comments were not ‘out of the blue,’” according to the interview summary attached as an exhibit to the OCE’s referral to the committee.
Although the two did converse at a hotel bar in Lisbon, Portugal, he was not “clearly drunk,” as Packer described, but had merely consumed two double helpings of Courvoisier cognac and Coke, Hastings said.
Hastings, in a letter to Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), acknowledged that some of the “completely innocuous allegations made by the complainant have been corroborated,” but the idea that he pursued a sexual relationship with Packer is false.
“The acts alleged are contrary to my character and to the main objective of my career in Congress, advancing the civil rights of all people,” Hastings said in a statement after the committee’s announcement. “I never had a romantic or sexual interest in her, nor did I ever express or otherwise suggest that I had any such interest.”
The committee’s investigation of Hastings began in October when the OCE referred its findings on the lawmaker for further review. The independent office began looking into Hastings’ behavior after a lawsuit was filed against the Florida Democrat in March that accused him of making unwelcome sexual comments and physical advances.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.