In June of 2011 it blew up in the press: Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) was being investigated for sexual harassment. New information regarding the allegations provide a fuller picture.
Today, the House Ethics Committee has decided not to conduct a full investigation and create an investigative subcommittee on the matter.
Hastings was sued in March 2011 by the legal group Judicial Watch on behalf of congressional staffer Winsome Packer. Another subject of the suit was her supervisor Fred Turner. Packer alleges sexual harassment on the part of Rep. Hastings from 2008 to 2010. Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton and counsel Jim Peterson held a press conference with Packer to announce the suit the same month.
Packer, along with Turner, still works for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe which is also known as the Helsinki Commission.
Packer is also suing the Commission.
Packer directed an e-mail request for an interview from Politic365 on her lawsuit to Fitton.
An Office of Congressional Ethics report released to Politic365 reveals e-mail and other correspondence related to Packer’s accusations against Hastings. In the last paragraph of an e-mail written by Packer to Turner in November of 2007, six months into her job at the Commission and before her complaints against Rep. Hastings began, Packer wrote:
“I hope you would never think I would place any Member above Mr. Hastings. Just so you understand, I have had a crush on him since I first met him so there is no way that I would put any Member above him. Yes, that’s totally unprofessional, but I want to make sure you get him.”
Many instances of Packer’s allegations of harassment by Rep. Hastings are alleged to have occurred in 2008 when Packer was assigned overseas. The suit filed by Judicial Watch on Packer’s behalf in part alleges that Rep. Hastings “regularly subjected Ms. Packer to unwelcomed sexual advances, sexually explicit remarks, and unwelcomed touching” from 2008 to 2010.
The suit also states she was under “severe stress and anxiety” because of Hastings’ alleged unwanted advances and sought medical attention.
Hastings has stated repeatedly in the press and in communications to the Office of Congressional Ethics that he never sexually harassed Packer.
Commenting this week, Rep. Hastings said, “it is very difficult for a public figure to have slander and liable turned around in their favor,” and that he will continue “to work with the Committee.”
Documents on the case show that two House entities have questioned the legitimacy of Packer’s accusations. They are the Office of Compliance and the Office of House Employment Counsel.
In February 2011, U.S House General Counsel Kerry Kircher and the House Employment Counsel attorney, Gloria Lett, sent a letter to Tony West, the head of the Civil Division of the Justice Department regarding Packer’s case against Rep. Hastings and Turner.
The letter asserts that “while Ms. Packer’s allegations begin with a kernel of truth, when looked at in context, Ms. Packer grossly distorts the events and the circumstances in order to support a fiction that she experienced unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation. Based on OHEC’s review to date we do not believe that Ms. Packer experienced sexual harassment.”
The letter also states that Packer “makes a number of assertions that are factually accurate, but are taken out of context.”
A letter from the House counsel also advises the Department of Justice to pay for Hastings’ and Turner’s attorneys. Two months after the Judicial Watch suit was filed in May 2011 and five months after the Kircher/Lett letter to the Justice Department, the Office of Congressional Ethics informed Rep. Hastings they would conduct a preliminary review on the Packer allegations.
On September 27, 2011 the Office of Congressional Ethics Board recommended that the House Ethics Committee further review the allegations made by Packer against Rep. Hastings. One member of the Board voted against the recommendation.
A year before on May 26, 2010 Packer spoke with the Office of Congressional Ethics on the matter of her allegations against Rep. Hastings. The next month in June, Packer released a self-published novel entitled “A Personal Agenda.” In her fictional book, a former African American member of Congress and a sitting African American member of Congress are brutally murdered.
According to investigative documents, when Packer was interviewed by the Office of Congressional Ethics regarding her claims of sexual harassment by Hastings in May 2011, she told investigators she’d been working on the novel since 1993 and that it was completed in 2006 and was developed through “personal observations.”
When Fitton, Packer’s attorney, was asked about whether his client’s novel hurt her credibility he in part responded that “the book is fiction, the lawsuit is fact.” When asked if Judicial Watch had any dealings with Packer before the Hastings suit, Fitton said, “Judicial Watch was contacted by Ms. Packer shortly before the lawsuit was brought.”
According to documents, Packer donated $1,000 to Hastings for Congress, his re-election campaign, in March 2009, a year after her suit alleges several instances of sexual harassment by the Congressman occurred in 2008. She allegedly informed Hastings she had no personal interest in him in July of 2008. A note included with the campaign donation handed to him by Packer in March 2009 read, “I want to do something nice for you, Mr. Hastings.” Hastings returned the donation in March 2011.
In an e-mail dated March 2009 written by Packer to Fred Turner, Packer writes of a meeting she had with Rep. Hastings in his Capitol Hill office. The first lines of the e-mail read: “I just met with Mr. Hastings and feel 100 percent better than I began last week. He is truly amazing.”
On Feb. 19 2010, Packer wrote Turner in an e-mail with the subject line “my personal safety and security” complaining about Hastings. The Office of Congressional Ethics interviewed eight people regarding the case.
In testimony to the Office of Congressional Ethics in July 2011, a former Chief of Staff of Hastings’ indicates he did not see the Congressman make any advances to Packer.
Testimony to the Office of Congressional Ethics reveals that Hastings and Packer directly contradict one another. Six other people are interviewed on the matter. Five of them do not directly corroborate Packer’s version of events, but several are informed by her of Hastings’ alleged behavior.
The Office of Congressional Ethics spoke with an FBI agent who is a friend of Packer’s. According to documents the agent informed investigators that Packer complained to her about Hastings’ alleged behavior. However, the agent’s testimony is based on information relayed to her by Packer. The agent was not working in any official capacity in the matter and was a sympathetic ear and friend of Packer’s.
Though Hastings does not deny that he hugged the defendant on several occasions and gave her a gift of a music box, Hastings vigorously denies Packer’s claims and characterizations of those activities. Staff interviewed informed investigators that Rep. Hastings was an avid giver of gifts to both men and women on his staff.
Packer was asked by investigators whether she considered quitting as the alleged harassment by Hastings continued. Office of Congressional Ethics documents show she responded that “she could not afford to be unemployed for a period of time.”
In 2007, Judicial Watch sued Hastings on a due process related matter. The charge was dismissed. Judicial Watch also called for an ethics investigation on Hastings regarding per diems. House Ethics investigated those allegations and found no violations.
See the full report from the Office of Congressional Ethics below.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She is heard every Tuesday on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush and WHUR and WPFW in Washington DC. You can follow her on twitter at @crewof42