Politics

Meehan Denies Wrongdoing Following Report of Harassment Settlement

Pennsylvania Republican is a Democratic target this year

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan reportedly settled a harassment case using taxpayer funds. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Updated 4:18 p.m. | Rep. Patrick Meehan denied allegations of misconduct Saturday, following a New York Times story that the Pennsylvania Republican used taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment case. The newspaper reported that the four-term lawmaker made unwanted romantic advances toward a female staffer in 2016.  

“Congressman Meehan denies the allegations,” his spokesman John Elizandro said in an email. “Throughout his career he has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism.”

The Times reported Saturday afternoon that the 7th District congressman used an undisclosed amount of funds from his personal office account to settle the harassment case. Citing sources familiar with the situation, the newspaper said an unnamed female staffer complained that Meehan, who is married, expressed romantic interest in her and “grew hostile when she did not reciprocate.”

Elizandro said the the allegations of inappropriate conduct were investigated.

“With respect to resolving any allegation made against the office, Congressman Meehan would only act with advice of House Counsel and consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance,” the spokesman said.

Elizandro said that, at Meehan’s request, the congressional lawyers who handled the case have asked the former staffer’s counsel to release “all parties” from confidentiality requirements “to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts.”

“The Congressman is hopeful that they will agree to this request for full transparency,” Meehan’s spokesman said.

Elizandro did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether the congressman still plans to run for re-election.

Meehan’s seat in the Philadelphia suburbs is being targeted by Democrats this cycle. Hillary Clinton carried his district by 2 points in 2016, though Meehan was re-elected by 19 points. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

Sexual harassment allegations had already upended the race on the Democratic side. State Sen. Daylin Leach, a top challenger, faced his own allegations of inappropriate conduct. Leach said following the allegations that he would be taking a step back from the congressional campaign.  

A handful of Democrats are running to take on Meehan. Leading the pack with most campaign funds was Dan Muroff, a former congressional aide and a Democratic ward leader in Philadelphia.

Muroff said in a brief phone interview Saturday that Meehan should resign. Should Meehan run for re-election, Muroff expected the allegations to be an issue in the campaign.

“My first reaction is, what the hell? The guy should resign,” Muroff said. “And if he doesn’t resign he should be stripped of his committee assignments. It’s just outrageous. It is horrific. I’m just stunned.”

Biomedical engineer Molly Sheehan, who is also running in the Democratic primary, said in a statement that the allegations demonstrate the importance of electing women. She said Meehan’s actions were an “abuse of power.”

“Too many women’s careers are cut short and rerouted in this system which protects the abusers, giving Pat Meehan the reins of investigations of other harassers,” Sheehan said. “It’s no wonder women find justice elusive as hypocrites like Meehan have created a nearly insurmountable bureaucratic maze to hold them accountable. To the woman who fought to report his harassment: thank you for your persistence and courage.”

Democratic candidate Drew McGinty also called on Meehan to resign.

Sexual harassment allegations have so far prompted three resignations and two retirements in Congress. GOP Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, and Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota have resigned. GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas and Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada have both announced they will not seek re-election.

Elizandro said Meehan believes the complaint process in Congress should be reformed “so that those who are truly wronged are given a fair forum to be heard and vindicated, and those accused are provided with an ability to respond to baseless accusations.”

Meehan sits on the House Ethics Committee, which has been investigating the allegations. A former federal prosecutor and district attorney in Delaware County, he has also worked on issues relating to sexual violence. He was one of the founding members of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, which launched last April. 

Watch: Ryan — Farenthold Leaving Congress Is ‘Right Decision’

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