Congress

Democratic Rep. Katie Hill denies relationship with congressional staffer

Conservative blog alleged California lawmaker had affair with man who is now her legislative director

California Rep. Katie Hill, a member of House Democratic leadership, has denied allegations she had an improper relationship with her legislative director. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Katie Hill on Tuesday denied allegations she had an improper relationship with the man who is her legislative director. The California Democrat said in a statement that her estranged husband is attempting to humiliate her and suggested there is a “coordinated effort” to destroy her.

On Friday, conservative blog RedState published a story detailing Hill’s alleged relationships with 2018 campaign staffers. The first allegation involved a female campaign staffer who entered into a relationship with Hill and Hill’s husband. The second allegation is that Hill also had an extramarital affair with Graham Kelly, who worked for her campaign and is now her legislative director. A relationship with a current congressional staffer would be a violation of House rules.

“Allegations that I have been involved in a relationship with Mr. Kelly are absolutely false,” Hill said in a statement to CQ Roll Call. “I am saddened that the deeply personal matter of my divorce has been brought into public view and the vindictive claims of my ex have now involved the lives and reputations of unrelated parties.”

Hill’s denial was first reported by Politico.

The congresswoman blamed her husband, Kenneth Heslep, for the report. Attempts to reach him through his lawyer, William Strachan, were not immediately successful.

“The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” she said.

Los Angeles Superior Court records show that Heslep filed for divorce in July. 

Members of Congress are barred from having a sexual relationship with their own staffers. House rules state that “a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner may not engage in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision of the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner, or who is an employee of a committee on which the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner serves.” The rule does not apply to two people who are married.

A potential violation of the code of conduct could trigger an Ethics Committee investigation and a recommendation for punishment. Past violations of House rules have involved different punishments, ranging from expulsion and censure to a less severe reprimand.

Hill’s statement did not address the allegation that she and her husband were in a relationship with a female campaign staffer. Hill, who is bisexual, did reference explicit photos that RedState published in its story, saying she has notified Capitol Police.

“Intimate photos of me and another individual were published by Republican operatives on the internet without my consent,” Hill said. “I have notified Capitol Hill police who are investigating the situation and potential legal violations of those who posted and distributed the photos, and therefore will have no further comment on the digital materials.”

Before Hill issued her statement, a potential Republican challenger in her 25th District in Southern California called on her to resign.

“While I believe that elected officials should be afforded a reasonable level of privacy, Ms. Hill’s relationships with two different members of her staff cross the line of ethical boundaries that members of Congress should be held to,” Lancaster City Council Member Angela Underwood-Jacobs said. “Ms. Hill’s behavior exhibits extremely poor judgement — it violates House ethics and it could have put our nation at risk due to her heightened potential to be blackmailed.”

Hill slammed her political opponents, accusing them of exploiting her situation.

“I am disgusted that my opponents would seek to exploit such a private matter for political gain,” she said. “This coordinated effort to try to destroy me and people close to me is despicable and will not succeed. I, like many women who have faced attacks like this before, am stronger than those who want me to be afraid.”

Hill, who has been open about being bisexual since she ran for Congress last year, is a top target for the GOP in 2020. She won her longtime Republican seat, which is located north of Los Angeles and includes most of Simi Valley, by unseating GOP Rep. Steve Knight by 9 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates her reelection Likely Democratic.

Since coming to Congress, Hill has emerged as one of the leaders of her freshman class. She and Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse are co-representatives of their class to House Democratic leadership. The late House Oversight Chairman Elijah E. Cummings tapped her to serve as the panel’s vice chairwoman, a position for more junior members. 

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report. 

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