Blake Farenthold Won’t Seek Reelection Amid Claims Of Harassment

Bill Clark/CQPHO

Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) will not seek reelection when his term is up in January 2019, according to multiple reports.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) confirmed those reports during a press conference on Thursday. He said he had a “couple conversations” with Farenthold and thinks he’s “making the right decision to retire.”

“There are new stories that are very disconcerting, unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories and I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we’ve had,” Ryan said.

The House Ethics Committee announced last week that Farenthold is under investigation for the allegation against him.

“As he should be,” Ryan said.

Farenthold’s office and the Republican congressional campaign committee’s press offices did not respond to multiple requests for comments. Aides from both offices told TPM that the communications staff was in meetings.

The news comes after CNN reported Thursday that a former staffer, Michael Rekola, had approached the Congressional Ethics Committee with claims of verbally abusive and sexually demeaning behavior that he experienced while he worked for Farenthold in 2015. Farenthold’s behavior ranged from making lewd comments about women to throwing objects when he was upset to calling staffers “fucktards,” according to CNN.

When reached by CNN, Farenthold denied most of the the staffer’s claims, but said he did regularly call aides “fucktards” but said it was “in jest,” not out of anger.

CNN’s story Thursday is just the latest report in recent days on the environment in Farenthold’s office. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that two other staffers had filed formal complaints against Farenthold, describing a hostile and inappropriate work environment.

One aide complained that Farenthold’s chief of staff treated women differently than men and another alleged that a female staffer made “inappropriate sexualized commentary in the workplace.” Farenthold’s spokeswoman told the Times that an attorney reviewed those complaints and did not find evidence of the inappropriate behavior.

Another aide told the Times that there was regular talk in Farenthold’s office about women’s bodies and that Farenthold was known to have consistent outbursts of ridicule or rage, behavior that Rekola confirmed in his accounts to CNN.

Another former staffer, Lauren Greene, made headlines in recent weeks when it was revealed that the Congressional Office of Compliance paid her $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle her complaints of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and hostile work environment against the congressman. Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director, sued Farenthold in December 2014, but dropped the suit after the two agreed to settle. He’s has denied all of Greene’s allegations.

Farenthold is the only lawmaker whom the Office of Compliance has paid out a sexual harassment settlement for in the past five years. Last week, he told local media that he plans to pay taxpayers back for the settlement.