Congress

Rep. Katie Hill resigns amid allegations of improper relationships with staffers

Ethics Committee last week said that it would investigate allegations

The House Ethics Committee was investigating whether California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill had an improper relationship with a staffer. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Mired in scandal over allegations she had an improper relationship with a congressional aide and revelations about another affair she and her now estranged husband had with a woman on her 2018 campaign staff, California Democratic Rep. Katie Hill announced Sunday that she is resigning. 

“It is with a broken heart that today I announce my resignation from Congress,” Hill said in a statement. “This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I believe it is the best thing for my constituents, my community, and our country.”

A Hill campaign spokeswoman said the timing of her resignation is uncertain.

The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Hill on Oct. 23, following a report in conservative blog RedState that alleged Hill had an affair with Graham Kelly, a campaign staffer who became her legislative director. Having a sexual relationship with a congressional aide would violate the House code of conduct.

The Ethics Committee inquiry will likely be halted when her resignation takes effect. In recent history the panel has determined that a lawmaker is beyond the jurisdiction of the committee once they leave Congress.

After the RedState story, Hill denied she had a relationship with Kelly and blamed her estranged husband for the allegation.

“The fact is I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” Hill said. Hill's husband, Kenneth Heslep, filed for divorce in July, according to Los Angeles Superior Court records.

In her statement Sunday, she blamed her husband and “hateful political operatives.”

“This is what needs to happen so that the good people who supported me will no longer be subjected to the pain inflicted by my abusive husband and the brutality of hateful political operatives who seem to happily provide a platform to a monster who is driving a smear campaign built around cyber exploitation,” she said.

The RedState article included another allegation that Hill and Heslep entered into a polyamorous relationship with one of Hill’s female campaign staffers.

Hill, who is openly bisexual, did admit to entering into a relationship with a female campaign staffer said the relationship occurred “during the final tumultuous years of my abusive marriage.”

“I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment,” Hill wrote in a letter to her constituents. “For that I apologize.”

In addition to the allegations, RedState and the Daily Mail both published illicit photos of Hill, prompting Hill to contact Capitol Police about the photos. She also reportedly issued a cease and desist letter to the Daily Mail, calling on it to take the photos down.

Hill worked for a non-profit combating homelessness before she was elected to Congress in 2018. And she had emerged as one of the leaders of her freshman class. She and Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse were co-representatives of their class to House Democratic leadership. The late House Oversight Chairman Elijah E. Cummings picked her to serve as the panel’s vice chairwoman, a position for more junior members. Hill also served on the Armed Services Committee. 

Hill told CQ Roll Call in September that being in leadership helped her become a more effective member, and she also sought to unify the ideologically diverse caucus.

“It’s important to me to be able to bridge the entire freshman class and therefore more of the caucus as a whole,” she said.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement Sunday night that Hill “has made a great contribution as a leader of the freshman class.”

“She has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a member untenable,” Pelosi said. “We must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.”

A competitive seat 

Hill’s exit upends what was already shaping up to be a competitive 2020 House race.

When Hill’s resignation does take effect, it will cause a special election in the next four or five months, under California state law. Gov. Gavin Newsom has 14 calendar days after the vacancy occurs to issue a proclamation for the special election to be held within 140 days.

California’s 25th District is one of seven in the Golden State that Democrats flipped in 2018. After winning a competitive primary, Hill went on to defeat former GOP Rep. Steve Knight by 9 points. 

Voters in the district, which is north of Los Angeles and includes most of Simi Valley, had traditionally backed Republicans, but supported Hillary Clinton by 7 points in 2016 — even as Knight defeated his challenger by 6 points.

The district has a sizable Hispanic population, and aerospace technology is a major industry. 

Hill had already drawn multiple Republican challengers in this cycle. She raised nearly $2 million since she took office in January, and had more than $1.5 million in her account on Sept. 30.

Navy veteran Mike Garcia has led the GOP field in fundraising, with $322,000 in his campaign account on Sept. 30, according to disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Garcia has also been endorsed by former GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, who represented the district for more than 20 years. Garcia said in a statement Sunday night that Hill “did the right thing” by resigning.

“The past week has been a complete distraction from the important work that needs to be done, and it’s time for our district to move forward and unite around a leader,” Garcia said.

Another Republican, Lancaster City Council Member Angela Underwood-Jacobs, ended the quarter with $188,000 on hand. She had called on Hill to resign after the allegations were made public.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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