Last week, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva (D) asked the attorney of a former congressional aide to release him from the confidential confines of an old settlement.
Grijalva claims to have been falsely linked to a series of scandals rocking Capitol Hill.
Over the course of the past two months, a number of high-profile politicians have been linked to sexual harassment claims and lawsuits. In many cases, congressmen and their accusers settled behind closed doors. Funds were withdrawn from taxpayer-funded accounts, with awards sometimes totaling in the tens of thousands of dollars.
When an Arizona newspaper uncovered one of Grijalva’s own settlements, it was quick to make the connection between the Democrat and his disgraced colleagues.
But Grijalva says the settlement – which cast him as “creating a hostile work environment” – had nothing to do with gender discrimination or passing lewd comments. Rather, The Washington Times suggests it stemmed from Grijalva’s alcohol use.
“Last week, The Washington Times contacted me seeking a comment on what it described as a sexual harassment claim that, in fact, had never been made,” said Grijalva in a statement issued last week. “Once the paper realized its original story was provably false, staff regrouped over the holidays and decided to run a misleading article trying to link me to sexual harassment complaints made against other people.”
But Grijalva didn’t deny the financial details of the $48,000 severance package for a former employee, who complained of the representative’s frequent drunkenness and its contribution to a hostile work environment.
Settlements made by congressmen over personal disputes have become a political wrecking ball in recent times. The congressional Office of Compliance has paid $17.2 million in confidential agreements spanning the past 20 years.
However, Grijalva was quick to defend himself, saying the $48,000 paid to a female staffer was settled without the Office’s arbitration.
“The fact is that an employee and I, working with the House Employment Counsel, mutually agreed on terms for a severance package, including an agreement that neither of us would talk about it publicly. The terms were consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance. The severance funds came out of my committee operating budget. Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva added that the aide’s attorney hadn’t yet responded to requests to release him from confidentiality.
The politician is only the latest in a line of men to find themselves targeted by the press over confidential settlements.
Many other male politicians, Grijalva aside, paid out money for sexual harassment suits. Detroit Democrat John Conyers – among the longest-serving living liberal representatives – apparently settled three separate sexual misconduct complaints.
Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA) recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would identify which congressional offices are receiving complaints. If passed, the bill would also allow victims to tell their stories publicly and without confidentiality restrictions.
Grijalva seemed supportive of the legislation.
“Because, otherwise, what are you hiding?” he asked. “And then you leave it up to supposition, which is never good.”