Grijalva cleared of wrongdoing in $48K settlement with female staffer

The House Committee on Ethics has cleared Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) of any wrongdoing for a settlement he made with a former female staffer who accused him of being drunk on the job, according to a document obtained by The Hill.

The panel unanimously voted to dismiss the allegations that Grijalva had misused funds in paying a former employee in 2015, according to a letter from the chairwoman and ranking member of the committee dated Dec. 14.

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It was first reported last fall that Grijalva arranged for a top staffer to be given a “severance package” worth $48,395 after she threatened a lawsuit alleging Grijalva was often drunk at work and created a hostile work environment.

The committee made its determination after the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) made its own recommendations to dismiss the claims against Grijalva.

“The committee reviewed the OCE referral. As a result of its review, the Committee unanimously voted to dismiss the allegation referred by OCE, consistent with OCE’s recommendation,” the letter read.

The investigation was first opened in February this year.

Grijalva, who will soon chair the House Natural Resources Committee, told reporters last year that he had conducted the settlement on the advice of the House Employment Counsel and that the claims did not refer to sexual harassment. He could not share more details about the settlement or the identity of the staffer due to a clause in their agreement.

“It’s been a bane on my family; politically, it’s used against me whether it’s the midterms or anything else. I don’t know if this necessarily makes it go away, but it does minimize the lies and for that I’m happy,” Grijalva told The Hill of the investigation’s findings.

Grijalva’s settlement was thrust back into the limelight earlier this month when Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeSenate panel approves Interior nominee over objections from Democrats Interior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? MORE blasted the lawmaker on Twitter after Grijalva had called for him to resign.

“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke wrote in a statement.

“This comes from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayer hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spent investigating unfounded allegations.”

Grijalva said Zinke's description was inaccurate and refutes the claims made by the former employee. He said he would have preferred to fight the allegations in court but was told by his legal counsel to instead settle.

“It’s the same method of operation that the administration uses. Every time somebody is put in a corner and has to respond based on the points we pointed out, then they go in a different direction,” Grijalva said of Zinke’s Twitter attack

“The boss does it, Trump, then they go after the individual. Cohen’s a rat now, and the list goes on. And then the character assassination and to deflect,” he said, referencing President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE’s former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Asked if he had a drinking problem, Grijalva said: “I do not.”

Trump on Saturday announced Zinke would be leaving his post at the end of the year. Zinke has been plagued by a number of controversies, and it was recently reported that the Department of Justice was referred an investigation into a land deal he invested in with the chairman of oil services company Haliburton.

Grijalva said he still plans to pursue investigations into Zinke’s actions, despite the secretary’s departure.

“I don’t think this is all totally unraveled yet. He still has issues with the land deal in Montana and Haliburton. Our job is now to look at what we think is the conflict of interest and how we have set this up for industry to run the shot,” he said.

“That is not fair and balanced, to borrow a line from Fox News, and that’s something we are going to look into.”