It turns out the government secretly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to resolve a sexual harassment case initiated by Judicial Watch against a Florida congressman with a long history of unscrupulous behavior. The veteran Democrat, Alcee Hastings, is most famous for getting impeached by Congress as a federal judge following 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.
Judicial Watch’s lawsuit against Hastings was filed 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.
Filed in 2011 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judicial Watch’s lawsuit triggered a House Ethics Committee investigation of Hastings. Not surprisingly, the notoriously remiss panel absolved the congressman after a laughable, 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.” For instance, the lawmaker admitted hugging Packer, asking her about her underwear and telling her he doesn’t sleep well after having sex. For all these years, American taxpayers were unaware of an undercover deal in which the Treasury Department paid Packer $220,000 to settle the sexual harassment lawsuit. Judicial Watch no longer represented Packer when the accord took place.
A Washington D.C. news outlet dedicated to covering Capitol Hill broke the story last week after obtaining documents about the covert arrangement. “The 2014 payment to settle the case involving Hastings was not apparently included in a breakdown of payouts to settle discrimination complaints against House lawmakers from the past five years released last month by the Office of Compliance, which approves the payouts,” the article states. “That total included only one payment to resolve a sexual harassment claim — $84,000 paid to settle a complaint against Texas GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold.”
This indicates that there’s no telling how much the government, through various accounts and agency divisions, is spending to settle sexual harassment cases. The public may never know the magnitude of the problem, especially since most politicians will never come clean. Even after his secret settlement was exposed, Hastings denied harassing Packer and told a newspaper in his south Florida district that he knew nothing about the settlement. “I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” the congressman says. In the meantime, the legislator’s unscrupulous behavior hasn’t changed. 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.