GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold resigns after sexual harassment claims

Blake Farenthold participates inthe 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards - House Judiciary Hearing at Fordham Law School on January 26, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Getty Images for NARAS)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold abruptly resigned Friday, four months after announcing he wouldn't seek re-election amid sexual harassment allegations.

"While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it's time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve," Farenthold said in a video statement, adding that his action was effective as of 5 p.m.

In December, Farenthold had posted another video denying a former aide's 2014 accusations, including that he'd subjected her to sexually suggestive comments and behavior and then fired her after she complained. Still, the congressman apologized in that video for an office atmosphere he said included "destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that, in general, was less than professional."

Capitol Hill has found itself in the center of a national reckoning over sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in the workplace. Since October, eight lawmakers have either resigned or abandoned re-election bids amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Some members and aides have complained about a patchwork system for reporting offenses and secrecy around settlements paid by lawmakers' offices.

A ninth lawmaker, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, announced on Monday she will not seek re-election this year amid calls for her resignation over her handling of the firing of a former chief of staff accused of harassment, threats and violence against female staffers in her congressional office.

Esty, a Democrat from Connecticut and an outspoken #MeToo advocate, made the announcement not to seek a fourth term in the November election days after apologizing for not protecting her employees from the male ex-chief of staff.

The lawsuit by former Farenthold aide Lauren Greene alleged that the congressman had discussed his sexual fantasies about her and said at a staff meeting that a lobbyist had propositioned him for a threesome. It accused Farenthold of repeatedly complimenting her appearance, then joking that he hoped the comments wouldn't be construed as sexual harassment.

Farenthold, a seven-year House veteran from Corpus Christi, had said he'd engaged in no wrongdoing when he settled the case in 2015. But after congressional sources said he'd paid the $84,000 settlement using taxpayer money, public focus intensified. Farenthold has promised to reimburse the Treasury Department for the cost of the settlement, but hasn't done so yet.

In an ominous sign for Farenthold, the head of the House GOP's campaign committee said in a statement Friday that he hopes Farenthold is "true to his word and pays back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used as a settlement."

Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, the GOP campaign chief, added that "Congress must hold ourselves to a higher standard and regain the trust of the American people."

Two Republicans, former Texas Water Board official Bech Bruun and ex-Victoria County Republican Party Chairman Michael Cloud, are squaring off in a May 22 primary runoff to succeed him.

A businessman and self-described radio sidekick who was new to politics, Farenthold upset long-serving Democratic U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz during the tea party wave of 2010. But his district has since been redrawn to make it more reliably Republican — including removing many areas along the Texas-Mexico border which had favored Democrats.

In Friday's video, Farenthold thanked his staff for its hard work and his family for its support while saying: "Leaving my service in the House, I'm able to look back on the entirety of my career in public service and say it was well worthwhile."

"I look forward to staying in touch with everyone," Farenthold said. "It's been an honor and a privilege to serve."


Weissert reported from Austin, Texas.