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A Congressional panel is investigating allegations that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) sexually harassed a member of his staff after the woman filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the conservative group Judicial Watch.
The Office of Congressional Ethics has been probing the incident for more than a month, according to Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch. The office has 90 days from the time it opened the case to decide whether to refer it to the House Ethics Committee.
Winsome Packer, a Republican aide on a commission Hastings headed, filed a lawsuit in D.C. federal court in early March alleging that from 2008 to 2010, she was repeatedly subjected to the lawmaker’s “unwelcome sexual advances” and “unwelcome touching.”
Fitton said his organization was first contacted by the ethics office in early May and that Packer met with House investigators for several hours shortly thereafter.
From 2007 until House Democrats lost their majority after the 2010 elections, Hastings was the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a group set up in the late 1970s to monitor a Cold War-era pact. Packer also joined the commission’s staff in 2007.
The suit also states that Hastings and one of his aides, identified as the commission’s former staff director, Fred Turner, threatened to retaliate by firing her if she reported the incidents. Turner and the commission are named as defendants along with Hastings.
Hastings’ office did not return a call from Roll Call, but his attorney, Tonya Robinson, said he “in the strongest terms denies the charges. Mr. Hastings has stated unequivocally that the plaintiff’s claims are untruthful and without merit.”
When the suit was filed, Hastings denied the allegations, saying it was filled with “numerous inaccuracies and untruths” and that he would win any case. “In a race with a lie, the truth always wins,” he added.
Packer, who lives in Alexandria, Va., is the author of a political novel titled “A Personal Agenda,” a 2010 crime and romance novel based in Washington, D.C., that involves the murder of a “black and disgraced ex-Congressman” and aims to show that “racial, cultural and sexual harassment know no color,” according to a news release.
Fitton said the ethics office investigation is past its 30-day preliminary stage, which is further than it got with 28 of the 69 cases it opened in the previous Congress. The office declined to comment on its work.