Embattled House Republican Blake Farenthold (R-TX) will become the third member of the House to announce the end of his career this month in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment. The local ABC affiliate in Victoria reports that Farenthold will withdraw from the 2018 election and retire, but plans to serve out the rest of this term. The move comes as another of Farenthold’s staff has reportedly gone to the House Ethics Committee to file a grievance over the work environment in his Capitol Hill office:
Congressman Blake Farenthold will withdraw from the race but is expected to finish his term. …
A former senior aide to Rep. Blake Farenthold has approached the House Ethics Committee to share a damning account of working for the Texas Republican, with the intent of describing the congressman as verbally abusive and sexually demeaning.
CNN named the aide this morning as Farenthold’s former communications director Michael Rekola, and outlined the story Rekola wanted to tell:
Michael Rekola, who was Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, described in an interview with CNN new details of the congressman’s abusive behavior. It ranged from making sexually graphic jokes to berating aides — bullying that Rekola says led him to seek medical treatment and psychological counseling, and at one point, caused him to vomit daily.
One comment from the congressman was especially personal. Rekola was about to leave town to get married in July 2015, when, he said, Farenthold, standing within earshot of other staffers in his Capitol Hill office, said to the groom-to-be: “Better have your fiancée blow you before she walks down the aisle — it will be the last time.” He then proceeded to joke about whether Rekola’s now-wife could wear white on her wedding day — a clear reference, Rekola said, to whether she had had premarital sex.
“I was disgusted and I left. I walked out,” Rekola said. Almost immediately after returning from his wedding, he gave his two-weeks notice.
Those crude remarks in the summer of 2015 marked just one of many instances in which Farenthold made sexually charged comments to or in the presence of aides, Rekola said. During the nine months that he worked for the congressman, Rekola said, he was also subject to a stream of angry behavior not sexual in nature — screaming fits of rage, slamming fists on desks and castigating aides, including regularly calling them “f**ktards.”
CNN’s M.J. Lee says another aide at the wedding corroborates this account, which Farenthold denies. He does admit, however, calling his aides “f**ktards” but says it was in jest. That explanation alone strongly suggests that Farenthold has profound boundary issues, let alone human-relations problems.
This goes beyond sexual harassment, or perhaps better put, is much broader in scope. It sounds like the kind of toxic work environment that existed in now-former Rep. Tim Murphy’s office, which was an “open secret” until Murphy’s extramarital affair and hypocrisy on abortion got exposed. Until very recently, paths for dealing effectively with either didn’t exist, mainly because leadership looked the other way and the accountability structures put in place operated mainly to protect elected officials rather than their employees. In that sense, Rekola has some guts to go to the Ethics Committee to ask them to intervene — something they’ve proven fairly craven at doing.
The winds have changed, however, and Farenthold knows it. He’s getting out because of it. The only question will be whether he actually completes his term, or whether he gets a Paul Ryan visit that ends with a resignation, like Murphy’s did.
Update: I changed the headline to remove the “avalanche” and replace it with “new.” It’s a more accurate headline, as one man’s avalanche may be another’s drizzle.
Update: According to NBC News, Ryan did talk to Farenthold — twice:
JUST IN: @NBCNews has confirmed GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold will retire at the end of his term and won't run for re-election in 2018 according to two GOP sources familiar with his decision. As previously noted, Speaker Paul Ryan talked to Farenthold twice late yesterday
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) December 14, 2017
Ryan’s going to get a reputation akin to “The Turk” at NFL preseason camps. “Speaker wants to talk to you. Bring your playbook.”