House ethics panel reprimands 2 lawmakers

The House Ethics Committee issued a judgment against two members of Congress involving investigations related to alleged sexual harassment. CNN's MJ Lee has the details.

Posted: Nov 17, 2018 6:23 PM
Updated: Nov 17, 2018 6:37 PM

The House Ethics Committee admonished two male lawmakers Friday related to investigations of alleged sexual harassment.

Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina was cited for "failure to take prompt and decisive action to deal with the alleged sexual harassment in his congressional office" and Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen of Nevada for making "persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities."

The committee said that its unanimous vote to issue Friday's report serves as "reproval" of Meadows' conduct, and it is requiring the congressman to reimburse the Treasury Department for "overpayment" made made to the congressman's former chief of staff, Kenny West, of around $40,000. The committee says the matter will be considered closed once Meadows pays back the money.

The panel investigated allegations of sexual harassment involving West. According to its review, the committee said West's behavior toward female staff was "inappropriate in every sense of the word."

"There is no place in any congressional office for looking up skirts, or down shirts; staring at a woman's chest; unwanted touching; or making sexual comments, even if subtle or in jest," the report said. "The fact that Mr. West supervised the women he did these things to makes his behavior even more unacceptable. Just as between Members and their staff, a power imbalance exists between senior staff and junior staff in congressional offices."

Meadows' failure to take prompt action refers to the congressman not terminating West, but instead, making him a senior adviser and continuing to give him congressional salary. To make matters worse, the committee said it found "little evidence of official work that (West) completed during that time" and that his duties "were not commensurate with his pay."

Meadows said in a statement that he was thankful the review into his case was concluded.

"I appreciate the Committee's acknowledgment of the immediate, appropriate, and good faith steps I did take after learning of my staff's concerns — including immediately separating the chief from the accusers so they never had to interact with him personally during the independent investigation," Meadows said in a statement that made no mention of the criticism directed at him.

Meadows continued, "Making sure my team feels safe and secure in our office is the highest priority for me and I'm truly sorry for any stress this situation caused them. I thank the Ethics Committee for their work in resolving this, and my office will remain committed to serving western North Carolinians every day to the best of our ability."

The ethics committee has issued its final report on Kihuen, who did not seeking re-election, and who has been accused by three women of "unwanted physical and verbal advances towards them between 2013 and 2017," according to the report.

"Specifically, the Committee found that Representative Kihuen made persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities," the report states.

The report says "Kihuen generally denied the allegations," but found "each of the complainant's allegations were supported by documentary evidence and some of the alleged incidents were corroborated by third party witnesses."

In response to the report, Kihuen extended an apology to the women he offended.

"After much reflection and introspection, I recognize that regardless of the fact that I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable or disrespected, what matters is how my actions were perceived by the women who came forward. It saddens me greatly to think I made any woman feel that way due to my own immaturity and overconfidence," Kihuen said. "I extend my sincere apologies to each of these women. Though I do not agree with aspects of the Report, I am thankful the Committee afforded everyone an opportunity to be heard and appreciate the Committee's acknowledgment that I fully cooperated with the investigation."

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