Ethics panel: More review needed in Hastings case

January 11, 2012 - 3:59 PM
Hastings Ethics

FILE - In this May 19, 2010 file photo, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday it needs more time to consider sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., but released a report in which the alleged victim detailed a pattern of sexually suggestive remarks and unwanted hugs. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House Ethics Committee said Wednesday it needs more time to consider sexual harassment allegations against Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., but released a report in which the alleged victim detailed a pattern of sexually suggestive remarks and unwanted hugs.

Hastings, a 10-term lawmaker, previously denied any wrongdoing and said the Office of Congressional Ethics — which does preliminary work for the ethics committee — "conducted a shoddy investigation, and now I am left to pay the price for its lack of diligence and poor investigative techniques." He said the allegations were "fictitious" and added, "I have nothing to hide."

The staff member who brought the allegations, Winsome Packer, works for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe a government agency based in Vienna, Austria and formerly headed by Hastings. Packer also has filed a civil lawsuit against the commission, its staff director and Hastings. Also known as the Helsinki Commission, the agency takes up issues such as human rights and peaceful settlement of disputes.

In the Office of Congressional Ethics report, Packer described Hastings as constantly hugging her against her will, pressing his cheek against hers and suggesting he go to her hotel room or she go to his room.

In one email to other staff members, Packer said, "He came over to where I was seated at the table and briefly placed his cheek against mine. I do not want Mr. Hastings to hug me because I am uncomfortable with it and I insist at this point that it is not repeated."

Hastings told the investigators that he hugged Packer "every time she said he did and that he hugs many different people."

Packer told the OCE that at 4 a.m. one day in Kazakhstan, as she was on the way to her hotel from the airport, an embassy representative with her received a call from Hastings saying he wanted to see Packer. When she arrived, Packer said Hastings was there with a drink in his hand and told Packer that he wanted to help advance her career.

Packer, according to the report, "responded that she worked hard to establish herself as a professional and she did not want a personal relationship with him. Representative Hastings responded by telling her that nobody would treat her less than professionally if she had a relationship with him."

During a trip to Lisbon, the report said, Hastings "started to 'rant'" to Packer about his interest in her."

"Representative Hastings told her that she was not a 'sport'" and that he had come to her 'as a man comes to a woman' and was upset that (Packer) had complained about his behavior towards her," the report said. It added that Hastings "then asked (Packer) to accompany him to his hotel room and also asked for her room number." She declined the requests, the report said.

In a response to the ethics committee last November, Hastings expressed his "dismay at the allegations" and said, "In the strongest possible terms, I deny the allegations made by Winsome Packer and am deeply saddened and frustrated that this inquiry has progressed to this point."

He added, "I have nothing to hide. While I have stated it many times, it bears repeating: the complainant's accusations that I sexually harassed her are absolutely false. I never have had a romantic or sexual interest in the complainant, nor did I ever express or otherwise intimate that I had any such interest in her, and her suggestions to the contrary are, to be blunt, fictitious."

Under its rules, the House Ethics Committee was obligated to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report on Wednesday. The OCE is composed of a board of non-legislators, and refers its findings to the ethics committee for further work.

Only the ethics committee, composed of five members from each party, can render judgment on whether a House member broke the rules and should be punished.