Rep. Meehan denies harassment amid settlement, loses House ethics seat

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - House Speaker Paul Ryan called for an Ethics Committee investigation Saturday after the New York Times reported that U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan used taxpayer money to settle a complaint that stemmed from his hostility toward a former aide who rejected his romantic overtures.

The story, published online Saturday, cited unnamed people who said the Republican Pennsylvania representative used thousands of dollars from his congressional office fund to settle the sexual harassment complaint the ex-aide filed last summer to the congressional Office of Compliance.

In a statement, Ryan's spokeswoman said the allegations must be investigated "fully and immediately" by the House Ethics Committee and that Meehan would immediately submit himself to the committee's review. Meehan is being removed from his position on the committee, and Ryan told Meehan that he should repay any taxpayer funds that were used to settle the case, Ryan's spokeswoman said.

The Times did not identify the accuser and said she did not speak to the newspaper.

In a statement, the four-term congressman's office denied that Meehan sexually harassed or mistreated the ex-aide. It also said Meehan, the former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia, had asked congressional lawyers who handled the case to ask the ex-aide's lawyer to dissolve the settlement's confidentiality requirements "to ensure a full and open airing of all the facts."

"Throughout his career he has always treated his colleagues, male and female, with the utmost respect and professionalism," Meehan's office said.

The accuser's lawyer, Alexis Ronickher, called the allegations "well-grounded" and rejected the idea of doing away with confidentiality. Meehan is trying to victimize her client twice by revealing the woman's identity and litigating the case in the media, Ronickher said.

Ronickher called it a "dirty political maneuver" by Meehan and an effort to save his political career by making it look like he's being transparent.

"Mr. Meehan demanded confidentiality to resolve the matter, presumably so that the public would never know that he entered into a settlement of a serious sexual harassment claim," Ronickher said.

Ronickher said the Ethics Committee investigation must include the fact that Meehan, in his Saturday statement responding to the Times article, "knowingly breached confidentiality in his agreement by discussing the case and the terms of any potential settlement agreement."

Meehan's office did not respond to questions about whether he used taxpayer money to settle the case or whether he would submit to the Ethics Committee investigation. However, his office said Meehan would only act with advice of House lawyers and in line with House Ethics Committee guidance to resolve any allegation.

"Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately," Meehan's office said.

Meehan represents a closely divided district that Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won in the 2016 presidential election.

Calls from Democrats for Meehan to resign were immediate, including one from Pennsylvania's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who said the U.S. House should investigate "how this matter was handled from top to bottom."