As he faced mounting pressure to resign over the alleged sexual harassment of one of his former aides, U.S. Representative Blake Farenthold of Texas announced on Thursday that he would not run for re-election next year.
Three years ago, Farenthold had settled a claim from former aide Lauren Greene, who said that he repeatedly forced her to listen to his sexual fantasies about her and made incessant comments about her appearance while joking that he hoped she didn’t think he was sexually harassing her. When she complained about his behavior, she said, she was fired for her trouble. After settling the case using $84,000 of taxpayer money, Farenthold maintained that he was innocent of the accusations — a point that he reasserted on Thursday even as he said he would retire at the end of his term. He did admit, however, to “destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general was less than professional.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said that he spoke with his Republican colleague twice on Wednesday, and appeared to indicate that were other disturbing “stories” about the congressman’s behavior that hadn’t yet been publicized.
“Unacceptable behavior has been alleged in those stories,” said Ryan. “I think he’s made the right decision that he’s going to be leaving Congress and that reflects some of the conversations we’ve had.”
One of those “stories” may have involved a male aide, Michael Rekola, who spoke to CNN about alleged bullying he suffered while serving as Farenthold’s communications director in 2015. Farenthold, Rekola alleged, would frequently make gross sexual remarks about women to him, scream at him in rage, pound his desk with his fist and even sweep the materials off a desk to the floor over problems as minor as typos. The constant intimidation, Rekola said, led to a stress-related stomach disorder and forced him to seek out counseling. Shortly before Rekola left town to get married, he recalled, Farenthold made sexual remarks about his fiancée that left him “disgusted.” Almost immediately after he returned from the wedding, Rekola gave his two-week notice.
“Like any staffer who’s been bullied, I knew that the dirty secret is: There’s no remedy for staffers like us. Move off the Hill and be silent or risk coming out and being blackballed,” Rekola told CNN.