Lawmaker denies misconduct claim; ethics inquiry planned
HARRISBURG, Pa. — House Speaker Paul Ryan has called for an Ethics Committee investigation after a report that Representative Patrick Meehan used taxpayer money to settle a complaint that stemmed from his hostility toward a former aide who rejected his romantic overtures.
The story, published online Saturday by The New York Times, cited unnamed people who said the Republican representative from Pennsylvania used thousands of dollars from his congressional office fund to settle the sexual harassment complaint the ex-aide filed last summer to the congressional Office of Compliance.
In a statement, Ryan’s spokeswoman said the allegations must be investigated ‘‘fully and immediately’’ by the House Ethics Committee and that Meehan would immediately submit himself to the committee’s review.
Meehan is being removed from his position on the committee, and Ryan told Meehan that he should repay any taxpayer funds that were used to settle the case, Ryan’s spokeswoman said.
The Times did not identify the accuser and said she did not speak to the newspaper.
In a statement, the four-term lawmaker’s office denied that Meehan sexually harassed or mistreated the ex-aide.
It also said Meehan, the former US attorney in Philadelphia, had asked congressional lawyers who handled the case to ask the ex-aide’s lawyer to dissolve the settlement’s confidentiality requirements ‘‘to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts.’’
‘‘Throughout his career he has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism,’’ Meehan’s office said.
The accuser’s lawyer, Alexis Ronickher, called the allegations ‘‘well-grounded’’ and rejected the idea of doing away with confidentiality. Meehan is trying to victimize her client twice by revealing the woman’s identity, Ronickher said.
Ronickher called it a ‘‘dirty political maneuver’’ by Meehan and an effort to save his political career by making it look as though he is being transparent.
‘‘Mr. Meehan demanded confidentiality to resolve the matter, presumably so that the public would never know that he entered into a settlement of a serious sexual harassment claim,’’ Ronickher said.
Ronickher said the Ethics Committee investigation must include the fact that Meehan, in his Saturday statement responding to the Times article, ‘‘knowingly breached confidentiality in his agreement by discussing the case and the terms of any potential settlement agreement.’’
Meehan’s office did not respond to questions about whether he used taxpayer money to settle the case or whether he would submit to the Ethics Committee investigation. However, his office said Meehan would only act with advice of House lawyers and in line with House Ethics Committee guidance.
‘‘Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately,’’ Meehan’s office said.
Meehan represents a closely divided district that Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won in the 2016 presidential election.
Calls from Democrats for Meehan to resign were immediate, including one from Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who said the US House should investigate ‘‘how this matter was handled from top to bottom.’’
In a separate development, a Michigan State University trustee called for the university president to quit over the school’s handling of the sexual assault scandal involving former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
Trustee Mitch Lyons issued a statement Saturday breaking ranks with the board, which had said a day earlier that they supported Michigan State’s president, Lou Anna Simon.
‘‘I do not agree with our statement of support for president Simon,’’ Lyons told the Detroit Free Press.
‘‘As I expressed repeatedly to fellow board members during our discussion Friday, I don’t believe president Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by this tragedy and even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse,’’ Lyons said.
More than 80 girls and women, including some Olympians, gave statements at the sentencing for Nassar, who worked at Michigan State and as a team doctor for USA Gymnastics. Some assaults took place at his university office.
Lyons called on Simon to resign ‘‘to let the healing process begin.’’
Brian Breslin, chairman of the board of trustees, said in a statement Saturday that all the other trustees continue to support Simon.
‘‘The board of trustees shares the outrage of the survivors over the egregious crimes committed by Larry Nassar on the campus of Michigan State University and in his work outside the university with USA Gymnastics and other organizations. The stories told in court this week are heartbreaking,’’ Breslin said.
The trustees have asked Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office to investigate the university’s handling of the scandal.
‘‘We look forward to a prompt and thorough investigation by the Michigan attorney general’s office to help reassure the public that the university and its leadership have nothing to hide,’’ Breslin said.
Prominent members of the state Legislature began calling for Simon to be replaced after The Detroit News reported that multiple Michigan State officials had been told of inappropriate behavior by Nassar, and that Simon was informed in 2014 that an unnamed sports doctor was under a Title IX investigation.