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Top House Democrat calls on Nevada lawmaker to resign

Representative Ruben Kihuen (right) with Senator Harry Reid. A former aide has accused Kihuen of making sexual advances toward her.
Associated Press/file 2016
Representative Ruben Kihuen (right) with Senator Harry Reid. A former aide has accused Kihuen of making sexual advances toward her.

WASHINGTON — The top House Democrat on Saturday called for Nevada Representative Ruben Kihuen to resign after a former aide accused the first-term lawmaker of repeatedly making sexual advances toward her during the 2016 congressional campaign.

In a statement, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she found the young woman’s documented account, reported by BuzzFeed News, to be convincing. The woman, identified only as Samantha, said Kihuen propositioned her for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections.

On two occasions, she said, he touched her thighs without consent.

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‘‘In light of these upsetting allegations, Congressman Kihuen should resign,’’ Pelosi said.

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The California lawmaker said she spoke to the 37-year-old congressman Friday night.

The request comes hours after Representative Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, also had pressed for Kihuen’s resignation, saying House members and candidates should be held to the highest standard, and anyone guilty of sexual harassment or assault should not hold elected office.

Kihuen said he did not remember the incidents with the aide, who worked as his campaign finance director and was a valued member of his team.

‘‘I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable. I take this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am,’’ Kihuen said. ‘‘But I want to make it clear that I don’t recall any of the circumstances she described.’’

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BuzzFeed withheld the woman’s last name at her request.

Kihuen gave no indication in the statement that he would follow Lujan’s admonition.

‘‘I have spent my fifteen years in public service fighting for women’s equality, and I will continue to do so,’’ the congressman said.

In a separate development, a congressional aide said Republican Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokeswoman.

Lauren Greene, a former communications director in the representative’s office alleged in a 2014 federal lawsuit that she was sexually harassed and fired soon after complaining of a hostile work environment.

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Farenthold said when the case was settled in 2015 that he didn’t engage in any wrongdoing.

The Office of Compliance on Friday released a report saying that since 2013, roughly about $360,000 has been paid out to resolve complaints against House offices. Only one settlement stemmed from a sexual harassment claim, amounting in $84,000.

An aide with knowledge of the settlement confirmed Friday that Farenthold is the lawmaker whose office paid the settlement. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to publicly discuss the agreement.

Farenthold’s office released a statement saying he can’t confirm or deny using a little-known congressional account to settle a sexual harassment claim. He says the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits him from answering the question.

According to Greene’s lawsuit, filed in 2014, a staffer told Greene that Farenthold had discussed his sexual fantasies about her.

The lawsuit also said that the lawmaker said at a staff meeting that a lobbyist had propositioned him for a threesome, and that he repeatedly complimented Greene about her appearance, then joked that he hoped the comments wouldn’t be construed as sexual harassment.

The independent Office of Congressional Ethics investigated Greene’s claim, and recommended that the House Ethics Committee dismiss the allegations, ‘‘as there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against complainant.’’

Farenthold said he was prohibited from answering if the payment stemmed from the allegations against him.

AshLee Strong, a spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, said he spoke to Farenthold on Friday.

‘‘The speaker has made clear any report of sexual harassment is deeply troubling, and those who feel mistreated or violated deserve to have their stories taken seriously,’’ Strong said.

‘‘In this instance, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics investigated this claim and unanimously voted to dismiss it,’’ Strong said. “Still, there are important questions to answer, including the use of taxpayer dollars for settlements. We will continue our efforts to reform this settlement system.’’