Lawmaker 'used tax funds to settle sexual harassment claim'

image source, US Congress
image captionBlake Farenthold denies any wrongdoing

A Republican congressman allegedly used a tax-payer funded account to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit with his former spokeswoman, US media report.

Congressman Blake Farenthold reportedly paid $84,000 (£62,000) to a former aide after she sued him in 2014, claiming he had created an unsafe work environment.

Both parties agreed to settle in 2015 to save taxpayer money, they said in an unpublished joint statement.

Mr Farenthold - a former conservative radio host - denies any wrongdoing.

"While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question," the Texas congressman said in a statement to BBC News.

He is the first reported member of Congress who is alleged to have used a little-known account, managed by the Congressional Office of Compliance (OOC), created to settle workplace complaints that involve lawmakers, according to US media.

The OOC reportedly revealed in a letter to the Committee on House Administration on Friday that the fund was used to pay for one sexual harassment settlement involving a congressman, but did not name Mr Farenthold.

The fund has reportedly paid for six settlements in total involving House members' offices since 2012, according to the OOC letter, which was sent as part of a wider review of sexual harassment and discrimination in Congress.

In her 2014 lawsuit, Lauren Greene had claimed that another congressional aide told her that Mr Farenthold said he had "sexual fantasies" about her, and alleged that she was improperly fired after she complained about the remarks.

She also claimed that the congressman "regularly drank to excess" and told her that he was "estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years", according to Politico, a Washington-based newspaper.

In a joint statement that Ms Greene and Mr Farenthold prepared at the time of the settlement but never released, the two confirmed that they had reached deal to save taxpayer money, according to a copy that was provided to BBC News by Mr Farenthold's office.

"After it became clear that further litigating this case would come at great expense to all involved - including the taxpayers - the parties engaged in mediation with a court-appointed mediator," the statement read.

image source, The Crush Girls
image captionPhotos emerged of Mr Farenthold wearing duck-printed pyjamas and posing with women when he joined Congress in 2011

The statement added that "Congressman Farenthold adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing" and that he "disagrees strongly" with the allegations.

Democratic Michigan Congressman John Conyers stepped down from a powerful congressional committee on Sunday after he was accused by of sexual misconduct by former staff members. He has denied the allegations.

Buzzfeed News revealed last week that he had paid a $27,000 (£20,000) legal settlement in 2015 with an accuser. Mr Conyers has acknowledged that payment but denied misconduct.

Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, has been accused of groping five women.

Mr Franken said in a press conference on Monday that he was "ashamed" of his past behaviour.

In response to the latest allegations, a spokesperson for Mr Franken said he "has never intentionally engaged in this kind of conduct".

Both men are currently being investigated by congressional ethics committees.

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