House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is demanding an ethics investigation into allegations Rep. Tony Cárdenas sexually assaulted a minor more than a decade ago but the top Democrat stopped short of calling for his resignation.
“I have spoken with Congressman Cárdenas and he appropriately asked us to withhold judgement until there is a full investigation of the facts,” Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Saturday. “I call upon the House Ethics Committee for a prompt investigation of this matter.”
Cárdenas has agreed to cooperate in the probe, Pelosi noted.
Cárdenas (D-Calif.) has vehemently denied the allegations through a lawyer and has spent recent days privately reaching out to House Democrats to proclaim his innocence.
In calls with fellow lawmakers, Cárdenas identified himself as the unnamed “John Doe” in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles last week, according to Democratic aides. In the lawsuit, Cárdenas is accused of sexually molesting a teenage girl after a golf outing in 2007 while he was a member of the L.A. City Council.
Cárdenas is accused of offering the underage woman, who was 16 at the time, water with an “unusual taste,” according to the Los Angeles Times. After the woman collapsed, the lawsuit alleges Cárdenas sexually assaulted her during a drive to the hospital.
“During the ride, he reached inside her shirt and rubbed her breasts, the suit alleges. He also reached down her shorts and fondled her vagina, according to the suit,” the Times reported.
Cárdenas’ attorney, Patricia Glaser, dismissed the allegations in a statement earlier this week, calling the unnamed plaintiff in the case “the daughter of a disgruntled former employee” who “may be the victim of manipulation.”
“My client is sickened and distraught by these horrific allegations, which are 100%, categorically untrue,” Glaser said in a statement.
“We respect victims who have found the strength to come forward and call out misconduct when it has actually occurred, but the type of baseless and reckless allegations that are contained in the complaint against my client can ruin the lives and careers of innocent people.”
Cárdenas has served in the House since 2013. He’s chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ political action committee and serves as Democratic Caucus representative, a low-ranking spot in party leadership.
Cárdenas is just the latest lawmaker to be embroiled in a sexual harassment or abuse scandal, with several members of Congress being forced to resign or retire after allegations were made against them.
Pelosi has handled the issue differently depending on the member involved.
In November, Pelosi initially defended Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) as an “icon” who was “entitled to due process” during an appearance on "Meet the Press" before calling for his resignation four days later. Conyers, the longest serving House lawmaker at the time, was accused of sexual harassment by multiple former staffers.
Pelosi’s response shifted after multiple accusers came forward over a period of several days, according to a source familiar with her thinking.
In another episode, Pelosi immediately called on Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) to resign in December after he was accused of sexual harassment by a former campaign aide and later a lobbyist.
Kihuen did not step down but the freshman lawmaker will not run for reelection this year.
At the time, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was presented with documentation corroborating the allegations against Kihuen, according to the Democratic source. No such corroboration has emerged in Cárdenas‘ case, the source noted.
“As Members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives, and any type of alleged misconduct must be investigated by the Ethics Committee,” Pelosi said Saturday. “Congressman Cárdenas said he will fully cooperate with an Ethics investigation.”