A settlement reached by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold and a former staffer who accused him of sexual harassment was paid with taxpayers’ money -- and this is how Twitter reacted. NATALIA CONTRERAS/CALLER-TIMES
AUSTIN — The 2015 settlement reached by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and a former aide who accused the congressman of sexual harassment was paid with taxpayers’ money, the lawyer for the former staffer said Friday.
“Any settlement paid under the Congressional Accountability Act is paid using federal dollars, which are taxpayers’ dollars,” Washington lawyer Leslie D. Alderman III told the USA TODAY Network.
Alderman represented Lauren Greene, who was Farenthold’s communications director until she was fired in July 2014. In December of that year, she filed a lawsuit in federal court accusing Farenthold of making sexually charged statements toward her and engaging in off-color behavior.
In her complaint, Greene alleged that another staffer had told her that "Farenthold had admitted to being attracted" to her and had said he'd had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her.
The complaint also states that Farenthold had said during a staff meeting that “a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome.’ ” The court document further alleged that “Farenthold regularly drank to excess, and because of his tendency to flirt, the staffers who accompanied him to Capitol Hill functions would joke that they had to be on ‘redhead patrol’ to keep him out of trouble.”
Farenthold at the time called the salacious allegations "outrageous" and said they were the product of an unhappy former staffer. The suit was settled in November 2015 and the terms were not disclosed.
Through an anonymous source, the Washington, D.C., newsletter Politico reported Friday that the terms called for Greene to be paid $84,000.
On Friday, Farenthold said he could not discuss the matter in detail.
“While I 100 percent support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question,” Farenthold said in a written statement.
He also repeated an earlier statement that he “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing.”
Constituents in Texas' 27th congressional district were determined to have a town hall on national issues and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold's performance, and they didn't care if the fourth-term Republican chose to attend or not. Wochit
Democrats, meanwhile, pounced on the report that taxpayers' money settled the lawsuit.
“Blake Farenthold’s conduct towards a female staffer is unlawful and disgusting, to say the least," said Crystal K. Perkins, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. "Using Texas taxpayer dollars as a piggy bank to hide your demeaning and degrading harassment of women is even worse."
Farenthold came to Congress after the 2010 wave election that swung the U.S. House to the Republicans when he squeaked past longtime Democratic incumbent Solomon Ortiz by just 775 votes out of more than 106,000 ballots cast.
In the elections since, he has won by far more comfortable margins even as his service in the nation's capital has been marked by controversy and occasional verbal gaffes. During the 2016 campaign, while discussing then-candidate Donald Trump's comments about "grabbing" women without their consent, Farenthold had to apologize for not denouncing rape while responding to an interviewer's question.
This year, he suggested that he might challenge U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to an "Aaron Burr-style" duel because the Maine Republican did not back an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Also this year, Farenthold was among House Republicans who voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. The effort failed. The office also looked into the matter that prompted the 2014 lawsuit against the lawmaker, but declined to take any action on the matter.
Farenthold intends to seek fifth term next year. So far, Michael Cloud, a business owner and former chairman of the Victoria County Republican party, plans to oppose him in the March 6 GOP primary.
Two Democrats have filed to run for Texas' 27th Congressional District: Eric Holguin and Rene Pena. Two others, Jerry Hall and Ronnie McDonald, have announced intentions to run but have not filed a Statement of Candidacy. The deadline to file is Dec. 11.
Follow John C. Moritz on Twitter: @JohnnieMo