January 12, 2012 / 3:30 AM / in 6 years

Report details harassment claim against Congressman Hastings

(Reuters) - The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday detailed a woman’s allegations of sexual harassment, including unwelcome physical contact, by Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, and the panel’s top members said further review of the case was warranted.

The accusations against Hastings, 75, a 10-term Democrat whose South Florida district includes Fort Lauderdale, were first leveled last year by Winsome Packer, a staff member with the Helsinki Commission on which he serves.

Packer, who was hired at the commission in 2007 after an interview with Hastings, then its chairman, told ethics investigators that he shook her hand on that first meeting but later gave her unwanted hugs and made sexually suggestive comments to her.

Hastings currently serves as the ranking Democrat on the commission, an independent federal agency charged with monitoring compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Accords, a multilateral East-West agreement that includes commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The agency’s website lists Packer as a policy advisor on political-military security issues.

House Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner, a Republican from Alabama, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Representative Linda Sanchez of California, released a joint statement on Wednesday saying the committee will “gather additional information necessary to complete its review” of the allegations.

Bonner and Sanchez added that the review “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

The committee also released an investigative report on Wednesday from the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The report does not name Packer, but it details several of her allegations against Hastings. She told ethics investigators of several instances of unwelcome sexual advances by Hastings, leading up to an incident at a hotel lobby in Portugal where she said he started to “rant” about his interest in her.

“According to (Packer), 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 (she) had complained about his behavior toward her,” the report states.

According to the report, Packer also said Hastings was drunk and that he asked her to accompany him to his room and asked for her room number, and that she declined both requests.

She said that on other occasions Hastings gave Packer unwanted embraces, and that in February 2010 at a function in Vienna he walked over to her and pressed his face against hers.

While the report does not name Packer, she has been identified in a federal civil lawsuit she filed against Hastings

in March 2011.

Hastings, a senior member of the powerful House Rules Committee, said on Wednesday that Packer was motivated to accuse him of wrongdoing to promote her self-published book, “A Personal Agenda.”

“As I have said repeatedly since this matter first came to my attention, I unequivocally deny the allegations made by Ms. Packer,” he said in a statement. “The acts alleged are contrary to my character and to the main objective of my career in Congress, advancing the civil rights of all people.”

All but one of the Helsinki Commission staff members who might have witnessed the alleged interactions between Hastings and Packer refused to cooperate with the Office of Congressional Ethics review, the agency said in its report.

Reporting and writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan

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