Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is temporarily stepping down from her leadership of a House Judiciary subcommittee, following a lawsuit claiming she fired a staffer who said she was raped by a superior at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, was chairwoman of the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations subcommittee, where she has focused on protecting special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and gun violence prevention.
An aide said there is no clear timeline for the congresswoman to resume leadership of the panel, but reiterated the move would be temporary.
“I fully support her decision to voluntarily and temporarily step back from the Crime Subcommittee Chair position to ensure the Subcommittee’s important work continues. This decision does not suggest any culpability by Representative Jackson Lee," said Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler in a statement Wednesday.
He announced that Karen Bass will serve as interim chairwoman of the subcommittee "until the matter is resolved and Representative Jackson Lee can resume the role of Chair."
In a statement last week, Jackson Lee’s office denied the woman in the lawsuit was fired as retribution.
“The Congresswoman is confident that, once all of the facts come to light, her office will be exonerated of any retaliatory or otherwise improper conduct and this matter will be put to rest,” Jackson Lee’s office said.
Jackson Lee is also stepping down from her role as chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, but this will not be temporary. The CBCF is the same organization where the staffer, identified in court filings as Jane Doe, interned in 2015.
According to the court filings, the staffer alleges that Damien Jones, a former intern coordinator for the CBCF, raped her at his D.C.-area home in October 2015.
The staffer was a 19-year-old intern when the alleged assault happened.
The lawsuit, filed on Jan. 11, details that the staffer reported the rape to police and told two members of Congress: Democratic Rep. Terri A. Sewell of Alabama and Jackson Lee. She did not pursue legal action at the time of the alleged rape.
The woman identified as Jane Doe was hired by Jackson Lee’s congressional office in late 2017, the lawsuit said. The woman alleges in the court documents that in March 2018 she personally asked to speak with the congresswoman about pursuing legal action, but Jackson Lee refused.
“While we still deny the allegations, we are especially concerned about Ms. Doe and only want the best for her and the many, many young people that the Congressional office has supported, encouraged, and provided opportunities for over 20 years,” Jackson Lee said in a statement.
Liberal advocacy groups are asking the lawmaker to step aside from other positions as the case continues.
Jackson Lee was the lead sponsor of a 2018 effort to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. She called the measure “central to our nation’s effort to fight the epidemic of domestic, sexual dating violence, and stalking.”
The proposal she sponsored last summer included provisions to help victims of domestic violence and stalking stay in stable housing situations, and to bar evictions based on the actions of an abuser.
The Violence Against Women Act, extended twice in 2018, eventually expired when the partial government shutdown began in late December.
Nadler said that efforts to reauthorize VAWA will continue to include Jackson Lee, calling the reauthorization a top priority for the House Judiciary panel.
“Collectively, I as Chairman, Representative Jackson Lee, and Representative Bass will continue working together to strengthen VAWA and to reform our criminal justice system,” he said.
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