It just won’t stop. The latest congressional harassment case to hit the news involves Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and a former staff member of a congressional commission. The twist in this story is that the woman wasn’t a congressional staffer but congressional employee. She was a member of the Helsinki Commission – a congressional commission that promotes international human rights. Oh, the irony
Winsome Packer, a Republican Hill staffer until 2006 when Democrats took over Congress, was born in Jamaica. She knew Hastings through a mutual friend and Hastings encouraged her to apply to the Helsinki Commission. Hastings was the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Packer got the job and was stationed in Vienna. Her job required her to travel with Hastings to other countries. She alleges that he asked to stay at her apartment or visit her hotel room, frequently hugged her and once asked inappropriate questions about her underwear.
From Roll Call:
Packer sued under a federal statute that allows individuals to seek damages against federal officials for violations of civil rights. But Hastings was dropped from the lawsuit in 2012, after he argued that the law didn’t apply to a member of Congress. The suit continued against the commission.
The House Ethics Committee closed its investigation in December 2014. It interviewed eight witnesses and concluded that the most serious allegations against Hastings were “not supported by evidence” although he “did admit to certain conduct that was less than professional.”
Packer was awarded $220,000 in 2014. Hastings maintains the innocence of sexual harassment. He claims he was never told of the settlement. Her settlement wasn’t included in the payments released by the Office of Compliance, interestingly enough. So far, of that list, a complaint of Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) is listed as the highest award at $84,000.
What other large amounts have been paid with taxpayer money in secret? We don’t know because the process is still secret. Why haven’t House Republicans shut down the funding?
Hastings has a sketchy history. He was a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern Florida District from 1979 to 1989 when he was impeached for bribery and perjury.
Who will be next?