Ethics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations

Ethics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations
© Greg Nash

The House Ethics Committee on Friday formally reprimanded Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsTrump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Schiff writes mock White House chief of staff job description Trump: 'No rush' to pick next chief of staff MORE (R-N.C.) for failing to adequately address sexual harassment allegations made against his former chief of staff and failing to protect the women who worked in his office from additional harassment and retaliation.

The GOP-led Ethics panel also ordered Meadows to repay taxpayers more than $40,000, the portion of the salary that Meadows continued to pay his top aide after the harassment was first reported.

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“Representative Meadows’ failure to take prompt and decisive action to deal with the alleged sexual harassment in his congressional office was troubling to the Committee,” the Ethics report on Meadows says. “The Committee found Representative Meadows violated House rules by failing to take appropriate steps to ensure that his House office was free from discrimination and any perception of discrimination.”

The Ethics panel also formally reprimanded Rep. Ruben KihuenRuben Jesus KihuenDem gains put Sunbelt in play for 2020 Pence aide defends Meadows after ethics panel reprimand: He ‘had my back’ Ethics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations MORE (D-Nev.) for making “persistent and unwanted advances towards women who were required to interact with him as part of their professional responsibilities.” After those sexual harassment allegations became public last year, Kihuen decided not to run for reelection. His term ends in early January.

The pair of ethics decisions came on the same day that incoming freshman lawmakers attended sexual-harassment training in the Capitol, the first time such a training has been held for new members.

Meadows is a close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE and, for the past two years, has been the leader of the Freedom Caucus, the band of conservative rebels that pressured then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerMeadows looks to make his move Fractious GOP vows to unify in House minority Three Republicans battle to succeed Meadows at House Freedom Caucus MORE (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015.

The allegations against Meadows’s then-chief of staff, Kenny West, were first raised in the fall of 2014. Several female staffers in Meadows’s office alleged that West inappropriately touched them, stared at their breasts and tried to look down their blouses or up their skirts.

In response, Meadows demoted West to senior adviser but kept him on staff, despite the sexual harassment allegations, the report said. West later resigned, but Meadows continued to pay him his full salary for another two months, as well as reimburse him for mileage.

Meadows told the House Ethics panel that he continued to pay West after he resigned to ensure a smooth transition and “as severance” the report said. The congressman also told the panel that West, during that time, had continued work in an official capacity, including traveling to “constituent meetings on my behalf.”

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics began a preliminary review of Meadows’s handling of the allegations in October 2015. Shortly thereafter, Meadows sent a letter directly to the bipartisan leaders of the Ethics Committee asking the panel to review the matter.

“Three years ago I asked the Committee on Ethics to review the matter surrounding the alleged conduct of my former chief of staff, Mr. West, and I’m thankful their review has now concluded. I appreciate the Committee’s acknowledgement 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 on Friday.

“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,” Meadows continued. “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.”

Updated at 3:44 p.m.