I became ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources at the beginning of 2015. As with any transition of this kind, one of my first responsibilities was putting together my staff.
As has now been reported, in a rather garbled and misleading way, one of my new employees left the Committee shortly after I assumed my position. Until this week, I had no intention of publicly discussing this episode. Unfortunately, the selective leaking of confidential information to another news outlet has made it necessary.
For those wondering what the hoopla is about, here’s as much of the story as I’m able to tell. Back on Nov. 21, a reporter at the conservative Washington Times reached out to my staff seeking comment on what he described as a settlement for a sexual harassment accusation. No such claim has ever been filed against me, and my office explained as much. Several days passed with no further contact.
Then, on Monday, the Times ran a story based on a completely different narrative: a former employee had left my office after receiving a “settlement” based on claims of a hostile work environment due to my alleged on-the-job drunkenness. The article put these allegations in the context of several unrelated sexual harassment investigations, with no journalistic reason to do so, in what I believe was an attempt to tarnish my reputation through hearsay and insinuation. The article did not name any sources for the claims it printed, and I have issued a standing request for an apology.
As I have now had to make clear to multiple news outlets, I do not work while drunk and have never had a hostile workplace environment. While I have no wish to drag current or former employees into this, I invite reporters to find any corroboration for these claims. They will be hard pressed. I am proud of the welcoming and professional environment I have always worked hard to create.
Several people pursuing this supposed story have shown a great deal of interest in trying to establish whether these allegations are part of a pattern. They have shown comparatively little interest, and have accordingly put in very little apparent reporting time, in understanding whether the underlying claims are true.
This brings me to the non-disclosure agreement I and my former employee signed when we went our separate ways.
When the public hears “taxpayer money” and “settlement,” any context or mitigating circumstances tend to disappear in smoke. While I am unable to discuss the particulars of the employee’s departure, I can say that on Wednesday the Office of House Employment Counsel was in touch with the claimant’s attorney to proactively request that I be released from the non-disclosure agreement in order to speak more freely.
I am pursuing transparency not just because I believe in transparent government, but because I firmly believe it will put this matter in a very different public light.
I understand the frustration of everyone observing this situation from the outside, and I share their desire to reform congressional policies that have proven outdated and unworkable. I support more openness in how public funds are used. Agreeing to a severance package made it possible for the Committee to move forward with its operations as quickly as possible and for the former employee to quickly begin seeking new opportunities.
This newspaper is not the only one to repeat the inaccurate claims leaked to the Times, either as news or as the basis for published opinion. If journalism is the first draft of history, consider what’s been published so far the first draft of journalism. There is more to the story, and I am asking to have it told.