The way former Rep. Ruben Kihuen describes it now, he was run out of Congress for engaging in playful, flirtatious banter with women who worked for him and with him.
But that’s not what the House Ethics Committee found after a monthslong probe into allegations of sexual harassment against him by three women.
“What I want to clarify out of all of this, is that nobody accused me of raping anyone, they didn’t accuse me of … sexual assault,” the Nevada Democrat told the hosts of a Spanish language radio show in Las Vegas last week. “They accused me of paying a compliment to a woman.”
Kihuen is running for Las Vegas city council this year. The Nevada Independent first reported on his interview on Monday.
In 2016, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the state party’s political godfather, hand picked Kihuen, who was seen as a rising star in the party, to represent Nevada’s 4th District.
But a House Ethics report that said Kihuen “made persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities” railroaded his House career. He retired earlier this year after just one term.
Now, in his comeback bid for Las Vegas city council, Kihuen is trying to alter the narrative surrounding his alleged sexual harassment, which the House Ethics Committee found credible.
“The Committee didn’t sanction me, they didn’t penalize me, they didn’t fine me,” Kihuen told the hosts “Frente a Frente” — or “Face to Face” — in Spanish last week. “The committee gave me a letter that says ‘reprimand,’ that is basically … a slap on the wrist — ‘don’t do this again.’ They found that the fact I had told [the three women] things — piropos — they found that it was credible.”
The Spanish word “piropo” is a compliment to someone’s physical appearance. Kihuen also characterized his actions with the three women as flirting, using the Spanish word “coquetear.”
The House Ethics Committee, in fact, found in its report that Kihuen’s actions were grounds for “reproval,” a clear public statement of rebuke of a member’s actions.
The report details Kihuen’s actions toward a D.C. “firm employee,” a campaign staffer and a Nevada lobbyist.
While serving as a member of the House, according to the report, Kihuen repeatedly kissed the firm employee’s cheek, touched her shoulders and back and commented on her physique. He also inquired about her relationship status and asked if she lived alone.
Kihuen insinuated that he would help the D.C. firm employee with her career in exchange for a romantic relationship, according to the Ethics report.
The campaign staffer testified that Kihuen made unwanted advances toward her by touching her thigh while they were driving back from a meeting and by grabbing the back of her thigh as she stood up to check her computer. He commented on her physical appearance on multiple occasions, she said, and once asked her “weird questions” like if she ever cheated on her boyfriend.
The female lobbyist, who worked with Kihuen in Nevada between 2013 and 2015, testified that he slid his hand under her dress and onto her thigh, grabbed her buttocks, asked her to sit on his lap. He also inquired what color her panties were and suggested that she would look good naked. The report also says the lobbyist testified that he sent messages suggesting — through emojis — that they make a sex tape together.
Kihuen said on the radio show last week that he was embarrassed by those texts with the lobbyist because, “if you look at those texts, it was as if I was a … teenager.”
But the texts were “consensual,” Kihuen said.
“She also went along with it. It was between us. She was an adult, she was 25 years old at this point, I was 32,” he said. “And both of us were interacting. In other words, we were two single people, two adults. I never thought that she felt uncomfortable.”
House Rule XXIII, clauses 1 and 2, states that “a Member … of the House shall behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House” and “shall adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House.”
Kihuen did not do that, the Ethics Committee determined.
Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report