U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan removed U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-7 of Chadds Ford, from the House Ethics Committee Saturday and launched an investigation following a New York Times report that alleged Meehan used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint from a former staffer.
The Times report detailed accusations from a former aide of unwanted romantic overtures by Meehan. "With respect to resolving any allegation made against the office, Congressman Meehan would only act with advice of House Counsel and consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance".
Meehan, a leader of the fight against sexual harassment in Congress, denies the charges, which were first reported by The New York Times. Their friendship took an awkward turn when the woman got into a serious relationship, prompting Meehan to profess his attraction to her both in person and in a letter.
The article, published on Saturday in the online edition of the newspaper, cited unidentified sources according to which the Republican representative of Pennsylvania spent thousands of dollars from the fund of his congressional office to solve a complaint of sexual harassment that the former assistant presented the summer passed before the Congress Compliance Office.
But Alexis Ronickher, who represented Meehan's former aide, said that Meehan has waived confidentiality "so he can deny well-grounded allegations knowing full well that his former staffer prizes her privacy above all else". A former US attorney, he has served on the Ethics Committee since 2013.
Ryan apparently is not calling for Meehan's resignation at this time.
The Ethics Committee has already launched investigations into sexual misconduct claims against at least four congressman, including Trent Franks, Republican of Arizona, John Conyers Jr, Democrat of Michigan, Blake Farenthold, Republican of Texas, and Ruben Kihuen, Democrat of Nevada. Ryan is also removing Meehan from the committee. "Though Mr. Meehan has denied the allegations, they must be fully and immediately investigated by the House Ethics Committee".
"Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately", he said.
"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 Congressman is hopeful that they will agree to this request for full transparency", the statement added.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Meehan should resign.
Democrats running to challenge Meehan's seat this year also called on Meehan to resign Saturday. "That is wrong and unacceptable", Wolf said in a statement. "I'm just stunned", he said in a tweet.