Texas congressman Farenthold to retire from House amid harassment accusations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold won’t seek re-election next year, two Republicans said Thursday, adding his name to the list of lawmakers leaving Congress amid sexual harassment allegations that have cost powerful men their jobs in politics, the arts and other businesses.

The accusations against Farenthold first surfaced in 2014, when a former aide sued him over sexually suggestive comments and behavior and said she’d been fired after she complained. The lawmaker said he engaged in no wrongdoing and the case was settled in 2015.

But the House Ethics Committee said last week that it would investigate Farenthold after congressional sources said he’d paid an $84,000 settlement using taxpayers’ money. Though Farenthold said he’d reimburse the Treasury Department, such payments have drawn public criticism from people saying lawmakers should use their own money for such settlements.

A House official said Farenthold spoke twice Wednesday to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., while another official said the congressmen spoke once with Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, who heads the GOP’s House campaign committee. Those discussions suggested that Farenthold may have come under pressure from leaders to step aside. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

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Last week, three lawmakers facing accusations of sexual harassment announced their resignations. Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz., have already left Congress while Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has said he will step aside soon.

Mike Bergsma, Republican chairman in the 27th District congressman’s home county of Nueces, said Farenthold campaign manager Joseph Walter told him he will not seek re-election. Walter told Bergsma the staff was working on a media statement that would be issued shortly.

“I think it’s a shame. He’s my friend; I think he’s been a good congressman. I wish he had been able to tell his side of the story and that this one issue wasn’t making so much difference,” Bergsma said.

“I don’t think he had done anything that devastating, and the thing that’s really hurting him is that it was public money,” Bergsma said, referring to the use of Treasury money to pay the settlement. “And the way the law is structured, my understanding is, he didn’t have much choice.”

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A second Republican who confirmed Farenthold’s retirement spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a decision the lawmaker had not yet made public.