- Maria Recio American-Statesman special correspondent
The House Ethics Committee late Thursday announced an expanded investigation into the conduct of U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, going beyond sexual harassment to look at possible improper use of House staff for his congressional campaigns.
The committee will look into whether Farenthold required congressional staffers to work on his campaigns, and whether the disgraced congressman, who said a week ago he will not run for re-election, lied to the panel.
The bombshell announcement from the ethics committee came in a letter from Chairman Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and ranking member, Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., saying the committee had unanimously voted to expand the jurisdiction of the inquiry into Farenthold’s activities. The committee announced earlier this month that it was forming an investigative subcommittee to look into the sexual harassment allegations against him.
The letter said the investigative subcommittee would be looking into allegations that “Rep. Farenthold’s congressional staff may have used House resources, including staff time, to benefit his congressional campaigns; that Rep. Farenthold, or any person acting on his behalf, may have required members of his congressional staff to work on his congressional campaigns; and that Rep. Farenthold may have made false statements or omissions in testimony to the committee.”
Allegations of campaign improprieties appear to be new. It’s unclear how Farenthold might have misled the committee.
In a statement, Farenthold’s press secretary Stacey Daniels said, “Congressman Farenthold has cooperated fully with both the Office of Congressional Ethics and the House Ethics Committee for almost three years. The Office of Congressional Ethics found unanimously, 6-0, that there was no substantiation to the charges against him. He looks forward to this issue being resolved in his favor, once again, and will continue to cooperate fully with the Ethics Committee.”
Farenthold, whose district stretches from the Coastal Bend into Bastrop and Caldwell counties, first came under pressure to retire a few weeks ago when a report surfaced from a House committee that a little-known congressional fund had paid a former staffer of the congressman $84,000 in 2015 to settle a sexual harassment case against him. Farenthold said he would reimburse the Treasury for the funds.
Farenthold withdrew from the race days after fresh news reports of allegations from two more former staff members that he used lewd and abusive language and that other staff members in the office acted inappropriately. In a video announcement on his decision to drop out of the race, he acknowledged an office environment that was “too permissive and decidedly unprofessional.” But he also denied the specific allegations by the former staff members.
Farenthold’s name is now off the ballot even though he missed the deadline to withdraw it. The state Republican party did not forward his name to the secretary of state’s office as a candidate on Tuesday. A state lawyer told state GOP officials that although the move would be illegal, Texas couldn’t force the party to comply.
The state Democratic Party sued Wednesday to try to force Farenthold back on the ballot. The party soon withdrew the suit, however, after a judge rejected a Democratic request to temporarily halt the election process.
Six Republicans and four Democrats are vying to replace Farenthold. The primaries are March 6.