The House Ethics Committee today announced that it will continue reviewing allegations that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) sexually harassed an employee when he was chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, but it will do so without forming a formal investigative subcommittee.
The Ethics Committee first began investigating Hastings when it received a referral from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics in October. The announcement, which was accompanied by the public release of a 148-page OCE report, was triggered by mandatory disclosure elements in the OCE and Ethics Committee review processes. It is the final time the committee will be required to comment on the matter unless it decides to empanel a formal investigative subcommittee and hold a public ethics trial.
“The committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgement on behalf of the Committee,” the statement released by Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) read. “The Committee will refrain from making further public statements on this matter pending completion of its initial review.”
The Office of Congressional Ethics began examining Hastings after an employment lawsuit was filed against the lawmaker, along with Helsinki Commission Staff Director Fred Turner, on March 7, 2011. The lawsuit alleges that from January 2008 to February 2010, Hastings made unwelcome sexual advances and comments that were sexual in nature and made physical advances.
Between March and September of last year, OCE investigators reviewed documents provided by Hastings, the Helsinki Commission and the complaining witness; interviewed eight witnesses, including at least one law enforcement agent; and attempted to interview at least four additional individuals who did not cooperate. On Oct. 13, it referred its findings to the Ethics Committee and recommended that it further review the allegations because there was “probable cause to believe that Rep. Hastings violated House rules, standards of conduct and federal law as a result of his interactions” with his former employee.
Also accompanying the committee’s announcement was a 12-page response letter that Hastings provided to Bonner and Sánchez in mid November. In it, Hastings blasts the OCE review process, denies any wrongdoing and says an ethics inquiry will compromise his ability to clear his name in court.
“While I fully expect that the Court will dismiss the complainant’s baseless claims against me, a parallel investigation by the Committee will unfairly jeopardize my defense of the litigation by forcing me to provide testimony and other information before I am required to do so in civil litigation,” Hastings wrote.
The committee’s review of the matter will now proceed as a Rule 18(a) investigation, which allows the committee to “consider any information in its possession indicating that a Member, officer or employee may have committed a violation of the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct” and authorizes the chairman and ranking member to “gather additional information concerning such an alleged violation by a Member, officer or employee unless and until an investigative subcommittee has been established,” according to House rules.