The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it is investigating U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings’ relationship with his longtime girlfriend, who is on the government payroll.
The Ethics Committee issued its standard, boiler-plate announcement that it is “aware of public allegations arising out of Representative Alcee Hastings’ personal relationship with an individual employed in his congressional office.”
The committee said it is considering whether the Broward-Palm Beach County Democrat’s relationship with an employee violates a House rule and whether he “has received any improper gifts” from the employee. The investigation began May 14.
It didn’t identify the individual, but the case clearly refers to Patricia Williams, the deputy director in Hastings’ office in the district.
Williams, who is the congressman’s highest-paid staffer, has been in a relationship with Hastings for decades, something that’s repeatedly drawn scrutiny.
Hastings, in a written statement, said he has “cooperated with the committee” since it began the investation. “As they continue to conduct their work, I stand ready to fully cooperate with their inquiry.”
In 2017, when the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust included Hastings on its list of “worst ethics violators” of the year, it cited Williams’ high salary and her relationship with the congressman.
Hastings dismissed any suggestion of wrongdoing at the time. “This particular group can say or do what they want. But I’m not in violation of any ethics or law. Patricia has worked with me for 25 years,” Hastings told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2017. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington complained about Hastings’ employment of Williams in 2012.
One big change is the emergence of the #MeToo movement, which prompted a 2018 rule change that prohibited sexual relationships between members of Congress and their employees.
The congressman has defended his aide as a nationally known expert on immigration who gets calls from around the country for advice on the issue.
Williams started work in the congressional office in 1993, the year Hastings took office. She was the lawyer, since disbarred, who represented Hastings in the 1980s, when he was tried and acquitted of accepting bribes as a federal judge. He was subsequently impeached and removed from the bench.
The Hastings-Williams relationship appears to violate the House rule that states a member of Congress “may not engage in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision” of the member or on a committee on which the member serves. It doesn’t apply to couples who are married.
The rule has gotten recent attention because of the resignation of U.S. Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., who resigned amid reports — which she denied — that she was involved in a relationship with a member of her staff. She acknowledged a relationship with a member of her campaign staff, something that isn’t prohibited by House rules. Conservative websites had published nude photos of Hill and reported she’d been involved in a three-way relationship with the female campaign aide, and her husband, whom she is divorcing.
In its announcement about Hastings, one of the things the committee said it is investigating in the category of improper gifts is whether he has received “any forbearance” from the employee. For years, Hastings has reported one of the highest negative net worths of any member of Congress — due to legal bills owed to Williams dating back to the case against him as a federal judge.
The 10-member Ethics Committee is unique in the House. It’s bipartisan, with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Announcements of committee action are made jointly by the chairman, who comes from the majority party, and the top minority party member.
The current chairman of the Ethics Committee is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Broward-Palm Beach County Democrat whose district is adjacent to Hastings’.
Hastings, 83, is the longest serving member of the Florida congressional delegation. In January, he announced he was suffering from pancreatic cancer. He said in June he would run for re-election next year to a 15th term in the House, and on Monday he said he has been responding well to treatment.
Anthony Man can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @browardpolitics
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