Congress Proves Untouchable From Harassment Claims

My lawyer told me if I say I'm really really sorry I won't get in trouble

Of all the high-profile men that have gone down recently for sexual harassment, none of the accused politicians have suffered any consequences indicating that elected officials are immune from punishment. In the last few weeks powerful entertainment figures, prominent television news personalities and a top political journalist have been fired for sexual harassment while members of congress embroiled in similar scandals remain in power.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken simply issued a public apology for groping and demeaning women, telling a local newspaper “I’ve let a lot of people down and I’m hoping I can make it up to them and gradually regain their trust.” In a social media post, the Democratic lawmaker dedicated a heartfelt “I am sorry” to all who have considered him an ally, supporter and champion of women. Veteran Michigan Congressman John Conyers took the amnesia route, claiming that he knew nothing about secretly paying a staffer—with taxpayer funds from his office budget—to make a sexual harassment scandal vanish. Multiple former staff members also accuse the 88-year-old lawmaker, the longest serving House member and until a few days ago the ranking Democrat on the powerful Judiciary Committee, of sexual harassment. A few years ago, Conyers got busted for illegally forcing congressional staffers to be personal servants and work on state and local campaigns, but he wasn’t even disciplined. This seems to be par for the course in Washington.

A few years ago, Judicial Watch sued a Florida congressman with a long history of deceit and corruption, for sexually harassing a female employee. The Democratic legislator, Alcee Hastings, was impeached by Congress as a federal judge after getting caught in a scandal involving the solicitation of a $150,000 bribe in return for “favorable treatment for defendants in a racketeering case before him.” The disgraced judge was an unindicted co-conspirator, but there was enough evidence against him for Congress to boot him from the bench. Hastings is one of only six federal judges to be impeached by Congress and removed from the bench. Appropriately, he joined one of the nation’s most corrupt enterprises and has flourished by committing a multitude of misdeeds that include mixing work as a public servant with romance. Earlier this year Hastings was in hot water after a watchdog revealed he gave his girlfriend the maximum taxpayer salary for five consecutive years to work in a field office. Top congressional salaries are supposed to go to the Washington D.C.-based chief of staff.

Judicial Watch’s lawsuit against Hastings was on behalf of a female employee that he regularly harassed. Her name is Winsome Packer and she was repeatedly subjected to “unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome touching” and retaliation by Hastings when he chaired the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. For over two years, from January 2008 through February 19, 2010, Packer was forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching by Hastings while serving as the Representative of the Commission to the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Although Packer repeatedly rejected Hastings’ sexual attention and complained about the harassment to the Commission Staff Director, Fred Turner, Hastings refused to stop sexually harassing her. Instead, the congressman and Turner retaliated against Packer—including making threats of termination—because she continued to object to Hastings’ conduct.

The lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch in 2011 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, led to a House Ethics Committee investigation of Hastings. Not surprisingly, the notoriously remiss panel absolved the congressman after a two-year probe. Charged with investigating and punishing corrupt legislators, the committee instead has a long tradition of letting them off the hook. In Hastings’ sexual harassment case, the panel found that the most serious allegations were not supported by the evidence, though Hastings “admitted to certain conduct that is less than professional.” In a separate investigation into Conyers’ corrupt acts years earlier, the Ethics Committee also failed to discipline the Michigan legislator, determining that he had “accepted responsibility” for the violations. As distinguished figures suffer consequences for committing sexual harassment, the question is who will punish elected officials for the same transgressions?

The motto of Judicial Watch is “Because no one is above the law”. To this end, Judicial Watch uses the open records or freedom of information laws and other tools to investigate and uncover misconduct by government officials and litigation to hold to account politicians and public officials who engage in corrupt activities.