We're monitoring the situation as accusations surface.
Left: Al Franken, Right: John Conyers. Photos via Getty
Men have been harassing and preying on women since the beginning of time. But as a wave of accusations against shitty men and subsequent firings have rocked industries from Hollywood to gaming journalism, it appears we've finally entered a new era. In this post-Weinstein world, bad behavior that's been swept under the rug for years is being forced out into the light. And Capitol Hill seems to be one of the many places while the hideous, toxic behavior of powerful men has been concealed for a long time.
As my colleague Allie Conti wrote in November, congressional offices are potential breeding grounds for inappropriate behavior, and the mechanism for complaints is hardly designed to help victims:
Accusers often get funneled through a byzantine process that ultimately leads to private settlements reminiscent of the ones that kept Harvey Weinstein's victims in the dark for decades. That system, coupled with the fact that elected officials in DC are often sleeping on cots away from their families, interacting with much younger staffers, and working in an environment that lacks a true Human Resources department and revolves around cocktail hours, together make for a perfect storm of enablement for would-be predators.
Here is a list of representatives and senators who have been accused of sexual misconduct. It will be updated as more allegations surface:
Patrick Meehan (Republican from Pennsylvania)
The accusation: The New York Times reported on January 20 that Meehan, a (now former) member of the House Ethics committee, "used thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to settle his own misconduct complaint after a former aide accused him last year of making unwanted romantic overtures to her." According to the paper, the woman's payout was "thousands of dollars," and she was required to sign a nondisclosure agreement. From the Times:
He expressed interest in her personal relationships outside the office, then seemed to become jealous in April when word spread through the office about the aide’s boyfriend. After Mr. Meehan’s professions of attraction and subsequent hostility, the woman filed a complaint with the congressional Office of Compliance over the summer, alleging sexual harassment... The handling of that complaint — which included an aggressive pushback by representatives from Mr. Meehan’s office and congressional lawyers, who suggested she had misinterpreted the congressman’s behavior — demoralized the aide.
The response: Since the report was published, Meehan has been removed from the House Ethics Committee, which has been tasked with handling congress's sexual harassment problem. John Elizandro, Meehan's spokesman, issued a statement denying the allegations. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, the congressman said, "I was a happily married man and I was not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship, but we were soul mates." He also denied paying out a settlement, instead framing it as "severance." But he admitted he was upset when he learned she had a boyfriend and said he had a tendency to "lash out" at his staff at moments of tension. He planned to run for reelection.
On April 27, Meehan resigned. "I will pay $39,000.00 to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse for the severance payment that was made from my office account," he promised. "I did not want to leave with any question of violating the trust of taxpayers."
Trent Franks (Republican from Arizona)
The accusation: Franks, a conservative noted for his aggressive pro-life stance, actually resigned before any allegations against him were made public. He announced his resignation on Thursday evening and released a (pretty long) statement explaining that "the Ethics Committee is reviewing an inquiry regarding my discussion of surrogacy with two previous female subordinates, making each feel uncomfortable." Franks was apparently "deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation."
In Franks's statement, he said he "became insensitive as to how the discussion of such an intensely personal topic might affect others" because he and his wife used a surrogate to have twins after fertility struggles.
Update 12/8/17: After his resignation, Politico reported that the aides he talked about surrogacy with were worried he was asking to have sex with them, and according to the AP one of them said Franks offered her $5 million to have his baby.
The response: Update 12/8/17: Though his resignation would initially go into effect on January 31, on Friday Franks announced that his wife had been hospitalized and he was stepping down immediately. Presumably a special election will be held to replace him.
Ruben Kihuen (Democrat from Nevada)
The accusation: On December 1, BuzzFeed reported that during Kihuen's campaign, his finance director quit after he allegedly repeatedly sexually harassed her. The finance director—who asked BuzzFeed to refer to her by only her first name, Samantha—told BuzzFeed that Kihuen "propositioned her for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections. On two occasions, she says he touched her thighs without consent."
Samantha claims that Kihuen followed her to her car after a fundraiser on February 6, 2016, and said, "You look really good, I'd like to take you out if you didn’t work for me." She claims that she told him she had a boyfriend and drove off, but his advances supposedly only became more aggressive. He allegedly continued to remind her that he would take her out if she didn't work for him, and asked her if she had ever “cheated on her boyfriend.”
Samantha claims that before Kihuen met with a congressman at a Las Vegas hotel in February 2016, he told her, “We should get a hotel room here.” When she declined he allegedly laughed at her. "It was humiliating," she told BuzzFeed.
The response: Kihuen's congressional office sent BuzzFeed the following statement:
The staff member in question was a valued member of my team. I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable. I take this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am. I was raised in a strong family that taught me to treat women with the utmost dignity and respect. I have spent my fifteen years in public service fighting for women’s equality, and I will continue to do so.
The congressman's former campaign manager, Dave Chase, said, "I believe Samantha and wish I had known her specific allegations when I confronted Ruben after she left the campaign or in time to stop what took place."
DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján wants Kihuen to resign. "Members and candidates must be held to the highest standard. If anyone is guilty of sexual harassment or sexual assault, they should not hold elected office," he said Friday. "Congressman Kihuen should resign."
Update 12/18/17: On December 16, Kihuen announced he wouldn't seek reelection in 2018.
Blake Farenthold (Republican from Texas)
The accusation: On December 1, Politico reported that Representative Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim made by Lauren Greene, his former communications director. In December 2014, Greene filed a lawsuit against the congressman for alleged "gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment," according to Politico.
In the lawsuit, Greene claimed that Farenthold told her he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her, and that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.”
“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 alleged in the lawsuit. "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 case was dropped after both parties agreed to a settlement.
Update 12/14/17: CNN published a report detailing the "verbally abusive and sexually demeaning" experiences former aides had while while working under Farenthold, who among other things, allegedly had a habit of referring to his staffers as "fucktards":
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.
The response: After the December 13 CNN report was published, Farenthold resigned.
Representative John Conyers (Democrat from Michigan)
The accusations: In November, BuzzFeed published a story about the (now former) ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee secretly settling a complaint in 2015 in which a former aide alleged her employment was terminated after she refused “succumb to [his] sexual advances.” (That staffer, Marion Brown, later revealed her identity on Today.) From BuzzFeed:
She alleges that Conyers asked her to work out of his room for the evening, but when she arrived the congressman started talking about his sexual desires. She alleged he then told her she needed to “touch it,” in reference to his penis, or find him a woman who would meet his sexual demands. She alleged Conyers made her work nights, evenings, and holidays to keep him company... [She also] alleged the congressman insisted she stay in his room while they traveled together for a fundraising event. When she told him that she would not stay with him, she alleged he told her to “just cuddle up with me and caress me before you go.”
Three other Conyers staffers sent affidavits to the congressional Office of Compliance, which, BuzzFeed reported, "outlined a pattern of behavior from Conyers that included touching the woman in a sexual manner and growing angry when she brought her husband around."
After BuzzFeed published its story, Deanna Maher, who worked for the congressman from 1997 to 2005, spoke about Conyers sexually harassing her to the Detroit News . Allegedly, after a Congressional Black Caucus event in 1997 "she rejected [Conyer's] offer to share his room at the Grand Hyatt in Washington and have sex... The other incidents with the now 88-year-old Conyers involved unwanted touching in a car in 1998 and another unwanted touching of her legs under her dress in 1999."
Ethics attorney Melanie Sloan, who worked for Conyers in 1990s, told the Washington Post that she "witnessed and experienced behavior by Conyers similar to episodes described in claims against him that on Tuesday prompted the House Ethics Committee to open an investigation."
Sloan claimed that "Conyers routinely yelled at and berated her, often criticizing her appearance. On one occasion, she said, he summoned her to his Rayburn Building office, where she found him in his underwear."
The response: Conyers has denied all wrongdoing, but stepped down from his post on the House Judiciary Committee, at least temporarily. Arnold E. Reed, his lawyer, told the New York Times, “He wants an opportunity to exonerate himself." On Thursday, he was hospitalized for what Reed "would assume... is related to stress."
Though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a bizarre defense on Conyers on Sunday's Meet the Press, where she called him "an icon," she later changed her tune. “The allegations against Mr. Conyers, as we have learned more since Sunday, are serious, disappointing and very credible,” she told reporters Thursday. “It is very sad. The brave women who came forward are owed justice... Congressman Conyers should resign." In a rare bipartisan moment, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan agreed the congressman should step down.
Update 12/6: Conyers announced that he is quitting Congress. A special election will be held to replace him, and both his son (endorsed by Conyers) and his great-nephew plan to run.
Senator Al Franken (Democrat from Minnesota)
The accusations: Six women have accused Franken of sexual misconduct. In November, news radio host Leeann Tweeden accused the comedian turned senator of kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006 on a USO tour. She wrote in a blog post that Franken, who was performing "comedy" for the troops, wrote a sketch that required the former model to kiss him. After pressuring her into "rehearsing" the kiss, Tweeden wrote, "We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth... I felt disgusted and violated."
She also published a photo from the tour where Franken is "jokingly" groping her chest while she was asleep.
Since then, five other women have accused Franken of sexual harassment. Lindsay Menz, a 33-year-old woman who now lives in Texas, said Franken "totally grabbed my butt" when she posed for a photo with him at the Minnesota State Fair. Two women spoke anonymously to HuffPost about their experiences with Franken. “My story is eerily similar to Lindsay Menz’s story,” one woman said. “He grabbed my buttocks during a photo op.”
The other woman said Franken "cupped my butt" at a 2008 Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis, and suggested they go to the bathroom together. “My immediate reaction was disgust,” she told HuffPost. “But my secondary reaction was disappointment. I was excited to be there and to meet him. And so to have that happen really deflated me. It felt like: ‘Is this really the person who is going to be in a position of power to represent our community?’”
“I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom,” Franken told HuffPost.
Update 12/6/17: A former congressional aide told Politico that in 2006 Franken tried to kiss her after a radio taping. “He was between me and the door and he was coming at me to kiss me. It was very quick and I think my brain had to work really hard to be like, ‘Wait, what is happening?’ But I knew whatever was happening was not right and I ducked,” she said. Franken deines the allegation.
On November 30, Army veteran Stephanie said Franken "groped my right breast" during the photo op on his 2003 USO tour. Shortly after, Jezebel published an account from a former New England elected official who said Franken tried to give her "a wet, open-mouthed kiss" when she appeared as a guest on Air America when he was a host on the short-lived progressive radio station. “It was onstage in front of a full theater... It was insidious. It was in plain sight and yet nobody saw it," the woman said.
The response: Update 12/7/17: When the first allegations came to light, Senate Democrats largely stuck to the same response: It's up to the ethics committee to investigate. But the party began to change their tune early this week. With 33 Senate Democrats calling for his resignation and a total of eight accusations against the senator, Franken announced his resignation on the floor of the senate Thursday morning. "Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very differently, " he emphasized.
After saying that he would resign, Franken said, "I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of the sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party."
Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.