Rep. Farenthold backpedals on pledge to repay sexual harassment settlement

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold has backed off his pledge to pay back a taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement.

The embattled congressman used $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint from a former spokesperson. His former communications director, Lauren Grene, sued him in Dec. 2014 over sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and creating a hostile work environment.

Farenthold apparently used money from the U.S. Congressional Office of Compliance to pay the settlement, prompting calls for his resignation and reimbursement of the settlement, which is currently at the hands of taxpayers.

A member of his communications staff says, on the advice of counsel, Farenthold is “waiting to see what changes the House makes to the Congressional Accountability Act before repaying the funds.” KXAN contacted the Congressional Office of Compliance to confirm the status of the payment but we have not received a response as of this publication.

Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, said in a TV interview on Dec. 4 that he would repay the settlement that week.

“Even though I was completely exonerated by [the Office of Congressional Ethics], and the settlement agreement has been paid, I’m doing my best and am going to hand a check over this week to probably Speaker Ryan or somebody and say ‘look, here’s the amount of my settlement, give it back to the taxpayers,'” he told KRIS-TV.

“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want the taxpayers to be on the hook for this, and I want to be able to talk about it and fix the system without people saying Blake, you benefited from the system, you don’t have a right to talk about it or fix it,” he said that day.

Days after filing for re-election, Farenthold announced he would not run for his seat on Dec. 14, after new revelations came out of inappropriate behavior in his office.

“I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” he said in a video posted to his campaign Facebook page. “It accommodated destructive gossip, off-hand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.”

“I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and too often a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” the Corpus Christi republican continued. “That was wrong. Clearly, it’s not how I was raised, it’s not who I am and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry.”

Farenthold is one of a handful of lawmakers who faced calls for resignation after accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior. Michigan Democratic Senator John Conyers announced he would step down near the end of last year, and Minnesota Democrat Al Franken resigned on Jan. 2.

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