Rep. Hastings faces ethics office probe

Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative watchdog group Judical Watch, confirmed that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) is being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) for allegations that he sexually harassed a female staff member.

The investigation, first reported Tuesday night by the Wall Street Journal, stems from a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch earlier this year on behalf of Winsome Packer, a policy adviser with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).

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For two years, while Hastings served as co-chairman of the CSCE, Packer alleges she received “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings,” according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“Judicial Watch confirms that Ms. Packer is cooperating with the Office of Congressional Ethics,” said Fitton in a statement. “She and Judicial Watch met with investigators for several hours in May.

Hastings, who has retained legal counsel in the matter, has vehemently denied the allegations. He must formally respond to the complaint in court by July 9.

On Tuesday night, The Wall Street Journal, citing “people familiar with the matter,” had reported that the OCE — an advisory board made up of former lawmakers, House officers and lawyers — had begun a preliminary investigation into the allegations against Hastings.

The OCE can either suggest that the House Ethics Committee look more closely at the matter or it can suggest that the committee terminate any future investigations.

According to Judicial Watch, Packer unsuccessfully attempted to bring her complaints to the commission, the House Ethics Committee and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), commission co-chairman.

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The lawsuit says that Packer “was particularly vulnerable to such threats because she was a Republican working for the Democratically controlled commission.”

Packer has spoken on Jamaican television shows about the sexual harassment allegations while promoting her novel, titled A Personal Agenda. The book centers around the murder of a black ex-congressman who had troubles with corruption and extramarital affairs.

"A Personal Agenda seeks to provoke its readers by examining racial tensions, corruption and sexual harassment in Congress, as well as the impact of immigration to the U.S. and other nations," a press release said at the time.