Lawmaker behind secret $84K sexual harassment settlement unmasked

Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, is pictured. | Getty Images

“While I 100% 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,” Blake Farenthold said in a statement. | Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) used taxpayer funds to end a dispute with his communications director in 2014.

Updated

Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

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Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene. She also claimed that Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.”

When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.

No information was ever released on that agreement.

House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000.

In a statement for this story, Farenthold would neither confirm or deny that his office was responsible for that $84,000 payout.

“While I 100% 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 statement.

Greene’s lawyer, Les Alderman of Alderman, Devorsetz & Hora PLLC, also would not say whether Greene was the woman who received the $84,000 Harper referred to.

But in a joint statement both Greene and Farenthold prepared at the time of the settlement but never released — a copy of which was shared with POLITICO by Alderman on Friday — the two confirmed they reached a deal in part to save taxpayer dollars.

“[A]fter it became clear that further litigating this case would come at great expense to all involved — including the taxpayers — the parties engaged in mediation with a court-appointed mediator,” the statement read. “After extensive discussion and consideration, the parties jointly agreed to accept the solution proposed by the mediator.”

The statement added: “The parties believe that the mediator’s solution saves the parties, and the taxpayers, significant sums that would be expended in further discovery and/or trial.”

The statement also states that Farenthold “disagrees strongly” with his client’s allegations and “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing.” It says the settlement included a confidentiality agreement that precludes Greene and Farenthold from discussing the case and “expressly provides that both parties deny all liability.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics also investigated Greene’s allegations. In a letter to the House Ethics Committee the watchdog said “there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against [ex-staffer Lauren Greene], or engaged in an effort to intimidate, take reprisal against, or discriminate against [Greene] for opposing such treatment, in violation of House rules and federal law.”

It was unclear Friday afternoon whether the discovery would have political ramifications for Farenthold, who rode the Tea Party wave to Congress in 2010. The 55-year-old hails from the the southeast corner of Texas, a safe area for Republicans.

However, a federal panel ruled over the summer that the district was drawn primarily based on race and violated the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Farenthold has said he would seek reelection, despite the fact that the make-up of his district may soon change and include more Democratic areas.

The filing deadline for someone to challenge Farenthold is Dec. 11.

Even if he isn’t challenged, Farenthold is likely to face repercussions from fellow House Republicans for using taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim. Recent reports, including in POLITICO, revealed that $17 million has been paid out quietly to settle workplace disputes.

Harper said Friday that only $360,000 of that total involved a House office.

That, however, won’t stem demands from conservatives that members who have been part of such settlements use their own personal money to reimburse the treasury.

Farenthold has a minimum net worth of $2.4 million, according to his most recent financial disclosure form.

Farenthold, a graduate of St. Mary’s University School of Law, practice law for several years after college. He also worked as a radio disc jockey while in school. He later founded a web design and consulting firm before running for Congress.

Greene came to Capitol Hill as an intern in 2009, and was later promoted to full time in the office of ex-Rep. John Sullivan (R-Oak.). In early 2013, she moved to Farenthold’s office, where she stayed for 18 months before her July 2014 firing.

According to Greene’s complaint in court, Farenthold and his top aide, Bob Haueter, sexually harassed her, allegations that both men vehemently denied.

“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 ‘red head patrol to keep him out of trouble,’” Greene’s complaint alleged. “On one occasion, prior to February 2014, during a staff meeting at which [Greene] was in attendance, Farenthold disclosed that a female lobbyist had propositioned him for a ‘threesome.’”

The complaint added: “On June 10, 2014, in response to Haueter’s complaint about [Greene’s] shirt … which Haueter claimed was transparent and showed [Greene’s] nipples, Farenthold told [another woman staffer] that [Greene] could show her nipples whenever she wanted to,” Greene’s complaint asserted.

Greene said Farenthold avoided meeting one-on-one with her, and she also felt awkward about meeting with Farenthold.

When Greene complained to Farenthold directly in June 2014 about her problems with Haueter, she was “marginalized and undermined” by the Texas Republican, and then fired several weeks later, Greene asserted.

Greene took the mater to the Office of Compliance, which handles workplace disputes. She went through a month of mandatory counseling and mediation before filing suit.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

http://www.politico.com

Michael Flynn grew up breaking the rules. It caught up to him as Trump’s national security advisor

In his bestselling 2016 book on terrorism, “The Field of Fight,” retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn described growing up “hell-bent on breaking rules for the adrenaline rush and hardwired just enough to not care about the consequences.”

On Friday, it became clear that Flynn broke one rule too many.

Flynn abruptly pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI about his communications with Russia’s ambassador last December, after Donald Trump had named Flynn his national security advisor.

As part of a plea agreement, Flynn also said he was cooperating with the investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into whether anyone in Trump’s orbit helped Moscow’s efforts to meddle in last year’s presidential campaign, suggesting higher-ups in the White House may face legal jeopardy.

At the time, Trump was under attack from veterans in the U.S. national security community, who worried about Trump’s lack of any military or government experience and his unconventional policies. Flynn’s 33 years in the military and battlefield experience helped deflect criticism.

A former Trump campaign policy advisor said Flynn was so close to Trump during the fall campaign that he rarely interacted with other members of the national security team.

“Both shared a similar worldview, and I believe were driven at least in part by sheer condescension from people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush,” the former advisor said.

Like Trump, Flynn warned about the dangers of “political correctness” in America and stoked fears of “radical Islam” at home and abroad.

But Flynn built more than a right-wing political profile last year. He also expanded his business, the Flynn Intel Group, and his financial interests weren’t always properly disclosed.

His first financial disclosure form, filed in January, detailed more than $1.3 million in income last year. Some payments came from well-known companies like Adobe Systems. Others were from groups like ACT for America, which has been accused of Islamophobia.

His second report, filed in March, revealed payments from a Russian air cargo company and a Russian cybersecurity company, both for speeches he delivered in Washington.

And it wasn’t until the third report, filed in August and revealing at least $1.8 million in income, that Flynn mentioned his work as a consultant for ACU Strategic Partners, a company seeking to develop nuclear power plants in the Middle East. An earlier trip to the region wasn’t disclosed on his application for a security clearance, according to Democrats on the House Oversight Committee.

There was another problem with Flynn’s private sector work.

Before the election, Flynn signed a contract with a Turkish-owned company to help undermine Fethullah Gulen, a political enemy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who lives in Pennsylvania. Flynn didn’t register as a foreign agent until March, when he detailed $530,000 in payments.

Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey Jr., who attended one of Flynn’s meetings with Turkish officials, said they discussed forcibly removing Gulen from the country, a move Woolsey feared would be illegal.

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Flynn’s work with Trump could have ended with the election. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was running the future president’s transition team, was “not a fan” of the former general, according to sources with knowledge of the relationship, and didn’t include him on a list of potential national security advisors.

Binders of plans and recommended appointments were delivered to Trump Tower in New York on election day in case Trump won an unlikely victory. But once Trump did, Christie was deposed, and his ideas — and the binders — were discarded.

Trump quickly named Flynn his national security advisor, a position of immense influence in the White House.

Flynn was almost immediately engulfed in controversy.

U.S. intelligence monitoring the Russian ambassador picked up Flynn’s conversations with the diplomat. Sally Yates, a former acting attorney general, later testified to Congress that she warned White House lawyers in January that Flynn “was compromised” and “could be blackmailed” by Russians.

After he was pushed out, Flynn returned to his Rhode Island hometown, passing the summer days surfing and hanging out with family. He registered a new consulting firm, Resilient Patriot, in Virginia, but it’s unclear what work it did.

His siblings opened a legal defense fund on Flynn’s behalf, saying he needed help despite the $1.8 million in income he reported in August

“The defense fund is still open and we’re still getting a lot of support,” said Joe Flynn, the defendant’s younger brother. “He’s not a man of means that can support this type of financial burden.”

Follow live coverage of the Trump administration on Essential Washington »

chris.megerian@latimes.com

Twitter: @chrismegerian


UPDATES:

10:29 a.m.: This article was updated with Flynn plea agreement and his brother’s defense fund.

This article was originally posted at 8:35 a.m.

latimes.com

Flynn to testify Trump as president-elect ‘directed him to make contact with the Russians’: report

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is expected to testify that President Trump instructed him to contact Russian officials shortly after the election, ABC News reported Friday.

Flynn is saying that Trump “directed him to make contact with the Russians,” ABC’s Brian Ross said Friday, just moments after Flynn entered a guilty plea for lying about his contact with Russians during the presidential transition period.

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on Friday after being charged with one felony count in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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According to ABC News, Flynn is also prepared to testify against Trump, members of Trump’s family and White House officials.

Ross initially reported that Trump directed Flynn during the campaign to reach out to Russian officials. Hours later, ABC News issued a clarification, saying he had reached out shortly after the election. 

ABC said that the Flynn confidant cited in its initial report “later clarified that during the campaign, Trump assigned Flynn and a small circle of other senior advisers to find ways to repair relations with Russia and other hot spots. It was shortly after the election, that President-elect Trump directed Flynn to contact Russian officials on topics that included working jointly against ISIS.” 

The former adviser has reportedly also “promised full cooperation to the Mueller team” within the last 24 hours.

Flynn is the first official to hold a formal office in the Trump administration to be implicated by the Mueller probe, which is examining potential ties between the campaign and Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Flynn’s misrepresentation of his conversations with former Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak — which took place in December 2016, a month before Trump took office — were the justification for his ouster from the White House after just 24 days.

– This post was updated at 7:59 p.m. to reflect ABC News’s clarification 

http://thehill.com

5 times Trump defended Flynn

Feb. 15

Joint presser with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

“Michael Flynn, General Flynn, is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think, in addition to that, from intelligence — papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It’s criminal actions, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time — before me. But now it’s really going on, and people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.

“I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally — I stress that — illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.” Read the story »

http://www.politico.com