Rep. Blake Farenthold announced Friday he would resign immediately from Congress, after an ethics inquiry was opened into allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior from former staff members.
The Texas Republican had said he would not run for reelection, but he had previously resisted calls to step down.
“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in a statement.
Farenthold has come under harsh scrutiny for using taxpayer money to settle a 2014 lawsuit brought by a former staffer over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
Lauren Greene, the former aide, said Farenthold told another staffer in the office that he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her — and that she could wear shirts that showed her nipples anytime she wanted.
Farenthold has denied the allegations, but he ultimately settled with Greene, who received $84,000 from a congressional fund dedicated to resolving workplace disputes.
The settlement included a confidentiality agreement barring Greene from talking about her accusations, but she later spoke with POLITICO about how she had been blackballed on Capitol Hill after coming forward.
“It’s definitely turned my life upside down,” Greene said. “It’s been a tough road. Emotionally, it was tough. Professionally, it’s been hard to figure out next steps. And it’s definitely had an impact on my career.”
After Greene spoke out, other aides emerged with their own horror stories.
Michael Rekola, another former aide to the Texan, told the House Ethics Committee that Farenthold was verbally abusive to him. He said that the congressman suggested Rekola have oral sex with his fiancee before their marriage because it would be the last time he would be able to do so — comments Farenthold denied making.
The wave of allegations led the Ethics Committee to open an investigation into Farenthold’s behavior. By leaving Congress early, the inquiry will be shut down.
Farenthold had also previously said he would repay the $84,000 in taxpayer funds he used to settle the lawsuit, but it’s not clear if he will.
“I hope Blake is true to his word and pays back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used as a settlement,” Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in a statement. “As I have said repeatedly, Congress must hold ourselves to a higher standard and regain the trust of the American people.”
Farenthold’s seat leans Republican, and Stivers expressed confidence the GOP would hold the district in the fall. A GOP source familiar with the matter said a special election before November was unlikely.