South Florida congressman Alcee Hastings is under renewed scrutiny after reports that the government paid more than $200,000 to a woman who says Hastings sexually harassed her.
“The fact that those funds were paid out of the Treasury has raised a lot of questions,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Sunday on Local 10’s “This Week in South Florida.”
The Miami Republican said that he was surprised at the payout and that it hasn’t been disclosed until now.
“He needs to come out and explain what happened and why and take appropriate action,” Curbelo said.
Hastings declined to be interviewed, but he released a written statement Monday.
“This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made,” the statement read. “I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid.”
Winsome Packer said Hastings made unwanted sexual advances from 2008 to 2010 while she worked for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a U.S. agency also known as the Helsinki Commission. At the time, Hastings was the chairman of the commission.
In 2010, Packer went public with the accusations, which Hastings denied. A conservative legal group sued Hastings and the commission on Packer’s behalf in 2011. A year later, a court ruling dropped Hasting from the suit, but the case against the commission continued.
On Friday, Roll Call published a story, citing documents that showed the commission settled the lawsuit with Packer in 2014 for $220,000.
The news comes as lawmakers, media figures and other prominent men accused of sexual harassment are facing intense pressure to step down from their positions of power.
Last week, Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, and Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct.
Meanwhile, the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican. Records show he used taxpayer funds to pay $84,000 to a former aide in 2014 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.
On Monday, several women who have accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment held a press conference and called on Congress to investigate. The White House called the accusations “false claims.”
In the initial lawsuit, Packer accused Hastings of “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching.”
She said Hastings hugged her, pressed his body against her body and pressed his face against her face.
At one point Packer said Hastings asked her, “What kind of underwear are you wearing?”
A separate House Ethics Committee investigation into Packer’s allegations was dismissed in 2014 because of lack of evidence, but the panel called Hastings’ behavior “less than professional.”
“Despite the fact that the conduct in this case does not rise to the level of actionable violations of the rules, the Committee does not want to leave the impression that Representative Hastings’ behavior was at all times appropriate,” the committee wrote in a report.