Already not running for re-election, and under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) resigned from the Congress on Friday afternoon, leaving Capitol Hill without having paid back taxpayers for an $84,000 settlement of a sexual harassment case involving himself and a former staff member, as one Democrat questioned whether the Texas Republican was trying to avoid that payment.
“Could it be that the Ethics Committee was about to act on his case?” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). “Why hasn’t Farenthold kept his promise and repaid the taxpayers for the $84,000 paid out for his sexual harassment case?”
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters that Farenthold had promised to pay that money, and was expected to do so – but now that he is no longer a member of Congress, the Ethics Committee has no authority to level any type of monetary penalty against him.
“I hope Blake is true to his word and pays back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used as a settlement,” said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH), the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.
As news of his decision spread, Farenthold moved swiftly to erase social media records of his time in office, deactivating both his Twitter and Facebook accounts soon after announcing that he was resigning his seat in the U.S. House.
That move took down an apologetic video that Farenthold had posted to Facebook to apologize for his actions back in December.
“I had no idea how to run a Congressional office,” Farenthold said in that Facebook video.
A conservative talk radio host, Farenthold was first elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010; he made little legislative impact on Capitol Hill, other than through his office decorum, which he acknowledged was not proper in a number of ways.
“I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” the Texas Republican added, acknowledging he had allowed ‘destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes” and more, though he denied charges of sexual misconduct that had swirled around him.
Farenthold was one of the lawmakers who was able to use taxpayer money to pay a legal workplace settlement with a former staff member; that was part of the ongoing ethics investigation against him.
The panel announced in December that it was investigation whether Farenthold “sexually harassed a former member of his staff, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, and retaliated against her for complaining of discriminatory conduct, and allegations that Representative Farenthold made inappropriate statements to other members of his official staff.”
While there had been rumblings that Farenthold might leave the Congress, he continued attending to his legislative duties, which included a March trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands to hold a hearing on hurricane damage there.